Why A United Regional Jet Flew To China With Five Stops

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)


  1. Surely it would’ve been better to fly the Chinese execs to somewhere with someone who has an E-175 they can have a good look at ?!?!

  2. If you’re an airline, you’re going to want more than just a few executives to review the aircraft. You’ll want to have reps from all your departments looking at every corner of the aircraft, from maintenance, pilots, trainers, cabin crew, baggage, ground staff, etc. The opportunity to try the aircraft with various known hard points, like gates, tugs, baggage conveyors, airstairs, and the like is also huge.

    By the time you’re done, you’d have sent a 777 full of staff to another country and gotten less value from the endeavour.

  3. How are such planes delivered for buyers far out?

    I would guess most Boeing jets from Boeing actually fly to the airline home base for delivery.

    Perhaps I could be wrong, but I have always wondered if they ship these small planes out in Ships or something.

  4. @Stacy I work in the aircraft manufacturing industry and we move aircraft all over the world for various purposes, including demo tours. Our main aircraft, a commonly used military utility helicopter, can be broken down and transported by ship, can be ferry flown (we recently had five of them fly from our facility in the U.S. to South America and can be transported via cargo aircraft, most commonly an Antonov (we can four on one aircraft). We recently had a small twin-otter sized propeller aircraft fly from Poland to South America via the North Atlantic. That was interesting.

  5. My guess is the plane was not equipped with transoceanic navigation, or the pilots were not trained in extended overwater ops, and they needed to remain mostly over land.

  6. @Stacy: The exact same way.

    Those planes are delivered from Sao Jose Dos Campos in Brazil with intermediate stops in St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, Florida, then delivery airport. Most planes are delivered to either a maintenance base, or another airport for induction or equipment upfitting.

    Typical delivery routes for small Airbus planes from Europe are Hamburg/Toulouse to Keflavik, Gander or Bangor, then whatever their destination is in the US or Mexico. The A320neo can sometimes (always?) skip the YQX/BGR stop and fly straight from KEF to the delivery airport.

    Embraer’s southern delivery route starts at SJK, then stops at Recife (right at the tip of Brazil’s nipple), Tenerife then mainland Europe. Airbus’ southern route is the opposite, and they stop in Cabo Verde. Smaller planes make extra stops.

    Most passenger jet deliveries aren’t a logistical nightmare, as there are enough intermediate airports to stop and refuel. An exception is the ferry of Hawaiian’s Boeing 717s between HNL and mainland, as the shortest distance between Hawaii and California is out of the 717’s range (as big as it is, the 717 is a glorified regional jet when it comes to range), so the seats are removed and auxiliary tanks are installed in the passenger compartment.

  7. “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.”

    The E-175 is certified ETOPS for 75 minutes, therefore the routing has to stay within that confine. Has nothing to do with the nature/purpose of the flight.

  8. One would think they could have shown the plane at Singapore airshow – and do tours from there if necessary.

    Also, I believe ETOPS only applies to flights with passengers, not ferry. Is it possible that they are trying to show the plane at the Russian far east? There are quite a few operators there.

  9. United are seeking this as a daily service using this very flight path.
    They will provide mixed aircraft including an a380 from Malaysian airlines.

  10. It was recently reported that a new regional airline, Tianjiao Airlines, has been approved for the province of Inner Mongolia for which Hothot is the capital city.

  11. You think this is so straight forward? It was a secret spy mission to deliver secret agent Felix Leiter, American colleague of James Bond 007. It’s like the Glomar Explorer and how the story was that it was studying undersea mining of manganese .

    Hey, who’s breaking down my door?
    Take him awayyyyyyyy!

    No, no, no, nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

  12. Suspect that the flight had 2 or 3 crews aboard, and after the PANC rest stop, the rested crew in the back would take over for the active crew on the previous segment. That is what a lot of Corporate Aircraft would do in a situation like this, especially if they were ferrying the aircraft. Having crew and passengers would not be an issue in a case like this.

  13. The Chinese do not really run such small aircrafts I think because their demand for seats between various cities is usually higher. Most of the flights between popular cities are full as is and many of them have a number of flights each day.

  14. It was in Vladivostok again today. The father of one of my students flies A319s for Aurora Airlines and said it was there. I was at VVO on Monday when returning from Atlanta, too bad it wasn’t there then. Would’ve been awesome to see an American-owned regional jet here in the Russian Far East.

  15. It’s rather odd to see a smaller jet like an Embraer/CRJ here in China. Routes between cities of any significance are operated with at least A320s/B737s. That said, there could be a market for such planes and turboprops in places where smaller towns need to connect to major cities and there isn’t much/any competition from high speed rail. For example, in Heilongjiang (where I live), there would be room I think for regional jets or turboprops to serve towns/cities near the Russian border to the capital Harbin, where the quickest train journey would be at least 6 hours.

  16. Oh seriously you do write some chod at times! “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. “

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