An interview with Ning Xifeng, Sanya Air’s Chief pilot
What follows was a brief interview with Ning Xifeng the chief pilot of Sanya Air. While Sanya Air stated they where not after publicity, they where welcoming to us to ask some questions to their Chief Pilot seeing our market is more the aviation hobbyist and not the people at large. Of course there are many places to hold an interview, but the best one is of course in the air on one of their test flights for the Sanya to Melbourne routes. So we joined Ning Xifeng in Melbourne for the return to Sanya which allowed us a nice first look at the Sanya Air aircraft as a bonus.
Q: First off we are grateful that you where willing not just to take the time to talk to us, but also would allow us to join you on one of the test flights before Sanya Air commences operations.
A: You are most welcome.
Q: Now correct us if we are wrong., but your started your career with China Southern, what made you decide to leave your job there and join Sanya Air?
A: Being able to live at my hometown for start was a great benefit, my parents are growing older and need more care, with my new station I am far better able to provide this. Also of course to be able to serve as a chief pilot instead of a captain is a nice change I cannot deny that. Overall though I liked the way Yu Shuang explained the business and what she aims to do and how to do it. With what we now know is to be the Yu Triangle she has a unique competitive advantage which I believe will lead to a successful business.
Q: I see, now before you flew the Airbus A320 family mainly the A321 and later the neo option, now you are transitioning to Boeing 757-200 planes of a relatively high age. What do you think of the Boeing 757 as we are on now and how do they compare to the A321?
A: Technology wise it is a step back, specially when you look at the flight deck, after all this dates back to the 767. However in return you get an aircraft that is a joy to fly, it is incredibly powerful for it’s size which means it can get up and get going really quickly and just flies amazingly. Add to that fact that as you can see here we fly extremely lightweight and it just adds to it all. That said I do miss the tray tables, but there are trade offs in anything.
Q: I see, now we mentioned these planes are quite old, do you think this could be an issue?
A: I doubt it, all of these planes been through a D-check plus level of overhaul and even received all new engines and flight systems where possible. All in all it was an expensive refit for these air frames, but considering the budget that had to be worked with I believe these where by far the best choice in aircraft. To top of it off you can see for yourself inside here you wouldn’t notice this air frame is 30 years old.
Q: Certainly the case on your interior point there. Now there is the thing about range, Sanya to Melbourne is truly on the edge of the capabilities of the 757, how did you get that approved?
A: It is indeed on the edge, however as mentioned before we fly extremely lightweight, with just 66 seats we are still within the safe operating window. If weather conditions are really bad we have the contracts and options for a stop in Darwin to refuel and continue. So far on these test flights things have been as expected, but as always time will tell how things work when put into practice.
Q: For a final question and this is more business related, but perhaps you know the answer, Sanya traditionally sees a lot of it’s tourism from China and Russia, yet Sanya Air only services 1 airport in China outside of Sanya and 1 in Russia, why is that?
A: Indeed not really my field of knowledge, but what I know is that the Yu Triangle is trying to attract tourism from other places so hence they opted for quite some routes outside of what is already being serviced. As an added bonus it reduces competition as a lot of traffic already flies into Haikou Meilan International Airport which is just a relatively short high speed train ride away from Sanya. That is at least as far as my understanding goes, but such questions are really best left for perhaps Yu Shuang herself.
Q: Understood, thank you for trying to answer it regardless and also thank you once more for taking the time and taking us on quite the flight. We shall leave you free to continue your work and we will finish up recording and editing.
A: Once again you are most welcome.
With that the short interview was over as Ning Xifeng had to return to the cockpit to talk things over with the other pilots onboard. We have to say we cannot of course give you a flight review, as this was just a test flight without flight attendants onboard and just some limited drinks and snacks which we where told graciously to take as many as we wanted (and on an 9 hour flight you do want some). What we can say is that their onboard wifi is amazing once you setup your proper VPN routing as it does all go through China as is to be expected, this is not really an choice for them.
I also would note that my editor brought this to my attention, but the plane is rather quiet for a 757, we suspect some of the save weight from the low seat count has been used for more sound proving. Overall though the seats are amazing and the IFE system is top notch (Also also a big thumps up for 15W capable USB charging ports). It really was quite the pleasant flight and we can see how people with the money would prefer this level of experience over your standard airline. This is clearly not aimed to be your standard level of airline and service.
All in all it is an interesting concept of an airline to see coming up these days, specially in China, but then perhaps of all market China was really missing something along these lines. What is also interesting is how everything is done as perfectly as possible, but still within a budget, as was mentioned in the interview the plane itself is 30 years old. They likely where able to buy these are really cheap prices which left room in the budget for all the upgrades, cause even with all that we doubt the overall price point comes close to even a used Airbus A321 let alone a new neo option. The added ability for that steep climb is great to as it means less time stuck in a seat with a belt on and no service.
We do wonder thought for the future if the concept is proven to be successful will they buy more Boeing 757, or will they look towards other options. In the end if they want to reach more people, they will need more range. As mentioned this Sanya to Melbourne route is really stretching this plane to it’s maximum and honestly a bit beyond that. The way we look at it, we see some Boeing 787s in the future for Sanya Air, but time will tell for now they first have to proof they have the right to exist and that is not an easy thing.