A Trip Through China on the ARJ21

Roughly three years ago, a Chinese-made passenger jet entered regular commercial service for the very first time. Since then, the model has flown over 10,000 hours, safely carrying passengers to exciting destinations all over China for Chengdu Airlines. Two new customers, Genghis Khan Airlines and Urumqi Air will also begin regular routes with their own ARJ21’s, thereby adding cities and routes to the ever-growing map of ARJ21 coverage.

The impressive list of destinations the ARJ21 services provides an interesting snapshot of the unique diversity and culture across China.  And what better way to experience the rich history and distinctive characteristics of the Middle Kingdom than through a grand tour on China’s first homegrown regional jet‽ So, sit back and relax as we embark upon a virtual tour of China by way of the major cities serviced by the ARJ21.  Please note, perspectives may shift over the course of our journey!

Chengdu Airlines is the launch customer of the ARJ21 and is based out of- you guessed it- Chengdu. Our trip begins with the original commercial home of the ARJ21. Chengdu is the capital and largest city in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, a region famed for its spicy cuisine and giant pandas. Chengdu itself is a bustling metropolis with a population of over 14 million residents. In addition to being a major economic and cultural center today, it is a city rich in history. Chengdu was established in 311 BC, and it is one of the few places in China to have retained its original name (成都, meaning “Established Capital”) continuously throughout the Imperial, Republican, and modern eras. So, whether you’re in search of world renowned restaurants, exciting nightlife, outdoor adventure, high-end shopping or just hoping to hug a panda, Chengdu has something for you.

When the ARJ21 entered passenger service with Chengdu airlines in 2016, the very first route flown was between Chengdu and the city of Shanghai, which is the second stop on our virtual tour.  Shanghai, one of the largest cities in China, is also home to COMAC’s Headquarters and the birth place of the ARJ21.  Therefore, Shanghai was a  fitting destination for the ARJ21’s entry into passenger service. With a population of over 26 million people, Shanghai is the second most populous city in the world (behind Sichuan Province’s Chongqing City), and is one of the four municipalities in China directly administered by the Central government (the others being Beijing, Tianjin, and Chongqing). For decades, Shanghai has been considered one of China’s most modern and cosmopolitan cities, and is one of the world’s most important financial centers. Visitors to Shanghai can enjoy the integration of Chinese and Western architectural influences as well as the numerous cultural and historical sights it has to offer.  To satisfy cerebral cravings, start with the Shanghai Natural History Museum, then move on to Nanjing Road (shopper’s paradise) for a little retail therapy.  Thrill seekers can get their blood pumping as they navigate a 93 story skywalk at the Jin Mao Tower (one of the highest freestanding structures in the world), then restore balance to the equilibrium by absorbing over 20,000 square meters of natural beauty at Yu Garden, also known as the Garden of Happiness. Or, for those in search of an all-in-one experience, put your walking shoes on and wander along the Bund (Wàitan), Shanghai’s famous promenade where you can enjoy fine dining, boutiques, and stunning architecture all with a view of the Huangpujiang River.  

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Photo: Stefan Fussan

The next stop is the city of Changsha in Hunan Province. Changsha is the capital and most populous city in Hunan, with a population of over 7 million people. The city has a long and rich historical and cultural heritage, and has been a site of major importance for multiple dynasties throughout history. So, it’s no surprise that Changsha is famed for its many artifacts and archaeological sites such as the Mawangdui tomb system.  Visitors can also explore vast and historically significant parkland such as Orange Island Park, an island in the Xiangjiang River that is home to attractions such as the Poem Tablet, and a square of sculptures called “Who Dominates the Rise and Fall”.   For a taste of history surrounded by modern day life, enjoy your morning tea on the steps of the Tianxin Pavilion.  Originally built in the 14th Century, the Pavilion (a part of the greater Tianxin Pavilion Park) has survived numerous dynasties and centuries thanks to continued reconstruction.  Whether you’re searching for a backdrop for the perfect selfie or a setting for self-reflection, world travelers will find what they’re looking for in the city of Changsha.  

Photo: Ckproject

A more recent and important regional destination for the ARJ21 is China’s northeast. Perhaps the most well-known city in the region, and a destination served by the ARJ21, is the city of Harbin. Just over 100 years ago, the small village of Harbin transformed into a multicultural metropolis following the construction of the China Eastern Railway. For decades, the city played host to a large Russian population, which existed alongside Chinese, European, and American communities. Although the original Russian population dwindled following the upheaval of the 20th century, their cultural legacy can still be seen today in the European architecture and Russian-inspired cuisine popular there today. In addition to its unique blend of European and Chinese cultures, Harbin is also famous for its annual Snow and Ice festival. As one of the coldest cities in China, Harbin is the perfect setting for the festival which features many elaborate and enormous ice sculptures that will dazzle visitors, especially when lit up at night.

Photo: China Daily

These are just a few of the major cities regularly visited by COMAC’s launch customer, Chengdu Airlines. This year, the network will grow even more as Genghis Khan Airlines and Urumqi Air take delivery and/or expand their fleet of  ARJ21s, opening up routes to exciting new ARJ21 destinations in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. Today, one can experience many diverse cities on China’s first domestically-designed regional jet. However, this is only the beginning; as more ARJ21s are delivered and new aircraft like the C919 and CR929 are introduced, the future may see nearly every Chinese city being served by Chinese aircraft!