China Eastern Airlines CHECK IN COUNTER
Passengers check in at the self-service machines of China Eastern Airlines in Kunming Changshui International Airport in China's southwestern Yunnan province on March 21, 2022, after a China Eastern aircraft flying from Kunming to the southern hub of Guangzhou crashed in southwestern China. Image Credit: AFP

Beijing: China has a strong record on aviation safety, with fatal commercial aircraft crashes unheard of in recent years and airlines operating millions of flying hours without incident.

On Monday afternoon, a Boeing Co. 737-800 NG flown by China Eastern Airlines Corp plunged into the hills of Guangxi province in the country’s south. The plane was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew. The cause of the crash is being investigated. It’s not yet known if there were any survivors.

China’s last fatal crash was in 2010, according to Aviation Safety Network, when a Henan Airlines Co. Embraer SA jet carrying 96 people crashed in Yichun in the northeast, killing 44. China’s worst aviation disaster was in 1994, when a China Northwest Airlines Tupolev Tu-154 crashed after taking off from Xi’an in Shaanxi province en route to Guangzhou. All 160 people on board died.

China Eastern’s last major incident was in June 2013 when an Embraer jet skidded off a runway in Shanghai, according to Aviation Safety Network. The carrier’s last fatal crash was in 2004, when all 53 passengers and crew on a Bombardier Inc. aircraft died when it crashed after take-off in Baotou, Inner Mongolia.

Aviation Safety Network data on the 25 countries with the highest number of fatal civil aviation accidents since 1945 show the US has the most, with 864 accidents and 10,828 fatalities. Russia is the next, Canada is third, and the UK is sixth. China is 11th, with 76 accidents recorded.

China has a lot riding on its track record, with its aviation market set to overtake the US as the world’s largest by the middle of the decade. Its airlines are some of the biggest in the world by fleet size. While their international passenger services have been severely curbed by the Covid-19 pandemic, domestic traffic bounced back toward pre-virus levels last year. Recent outbreaks around the country have likely dented the recovery.

China Eastern is one of the nation’s so-called Big Three carriers, along with Air China Ltd. and China Southern Airlines Co. China Eastern operated a total of 752 aircraft at the end of February, including 289 from the Boeing 737 series. The airline said it is grounding its 737-800 aircraft following Monday’s crash.