It’s not unusual for turboprops or regional jets to make long trips across oceans with many stops. However, typically that happens when an airline is taking delivery of a plane, and the plane needs to get from the factory to where it’s going to be based.
However, at the moment a United Express Embraer 175 operated by Mesa Airlines is making a different kind of trip, which sees it flying to Russia and China. What’s the reason for this strange trip? Bloomberg notes that aircraft manufacturer Embraer is leasing the plane from Mesa, so it can show off the plane to an unnamed, prospective buyer in China.
The airline agreed to a short term lease for the plane, and expects it to be back in service by the end of the week. Since Mesa has 53 of these planes in their fleet, they can lease it without any operational impact, since presumably they usually have at least a couple of planes in maintenance.
The plane operated a routine flight with passengers from Houston to Colorado Springs last Friday, and then the long journey began. The plane (tail number N89349) flew from:
- Colorado Springs, Colorado, to Seattle, Washington — 1,071 miles
- Seattle, Washington, to Anchorage, Alaska — 1,445 miles
- Anchorage, Alaska, to Anadyr, Russia — 1,035 miles
- Anadyr, Russia, to Magadan, Russia — 924 miles
- Magadan, Russia, to Vladivostok, Russia — 1,383 miles
- Vladivostok, Russia, to Hohhot, China — 1,057 miles
Hohhot is the plane’s final destination in China, and it’s about 250 miles from Beijing. I’m curious which airline Embraer is in talks with based on that. Both Air China and Hainan operate primarily out of Beijing, so perhaps it’s one of those carriers, or it could be any of a number of other airlines. Tianjin Airlines uses Hohhot as a focus city, so they’re another airline that comes to mind, especially as they already have Embraer 190s.
Here’s a picture of the out-of-place-looking United plane at Anadyr Airport:
On one hand it seem really inefficient to fly an Embraer 175 all the way to China to show it off. What I hadn’t realized is that no Chinese airline operates that exact plane, which is kind of surprising. There are some airlines based closer to China that operate Embraer 175s, though my guess is that they weren’t willing to engage in a short term lease like this (either because they don’t have the capacity, or because they don’t want to help a competitor with acquiring the plane).
The Embraer 175 has a range of about 2,500 miles, so they could have done the journey in fewer stops. However, I’m guessing due to the overwater flying and the unique nature of this trip, they wanted to use major airports and get nowhere close to their limits.
What I’m most curious about is how the staffing for this flight worked. It looks like the plane stayed in Anchorage for a bit, and then I guess the crew flew all the way to China, which makes for a long day, given the stops. I wonder if they just had one crew, or if they staffed it with two sets of pilots, or what.
I’ll be curious to see what routing the plane takes back to the US.
(Tip of the hat to @BlueberryRex)