STEWARDESSES from China will soon be donning SilkAir's lime green and rustic red uniforms.

The airline has hired its first batch of 24 cabin crew from that country to support its growing business there.

They were selected from more than 600 applicants who responded to a recruitment drive in Chongqing, in south-west China, in May.

"As we expand more aggressively into China, the Chinese crew will be able to help us better understand our customers, their culture and their requirements," the airline's chief executive, Mr Leslie Thng, told The Straits Times.

SilkAir, the regional arm of Singapore Airlines (SIA), has 34 flights a week to seven cities in China, including Chengdu, Kunming and Shenzhen.

The new staff are now undergoing a 21/2-month training programme which includes personal grooming, passenger handling skills and meal service procedures. They will start work from next month on flights between Singapore and China.

Outside Singapore, SilkAir, which has more than 500 cabin crew, also recruits in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

Parent carrier SIA also hires foreign crew from countries such as China, India and South Korea.

Industry analysts said Mr Thng, SIA's vice-president for network planning before he joined SilkAir three weeks ago, is steering the carrier through exciting times.

SIA is relying on SilkAir, which flies to 41 destinations within the region, as well as its long-haul budget subsidiary Scoot, to bolster its bottom line.

SIA's long-distance business has come under pressure from the euro zone crisis, high oil prices and dogfights with rivals such as Emirates.

Last month, SilkAir announced plans for its biggest aircraft buy in its 20-year history - up to 68 Boeing jets. Of these, 54 are firm orders worth US$4.9 billion (S$6 billion) at catalogue prices. The remaining 14 are optional purchases.

The first plane will arrive in 2014. Details like onboard entertainment will be finalised in the next six months, Mr Thng said.

SilkAir's existing fleet of 21 Airbus planes do not come with personal entertainment screens. A few years ago, the airline also did away with hand-held in-flight entertainment gadgets because they were reportedly not popular with customers.

Mr Thng said: "We have received some feedback from our customers on this, so we will look into how we can enhance the travel experience... how to keep them occupied while they enjoy the journey with us."

Despite the growth of low-cost rivals such as Tiger Airways, Jetstar and AirAsia, which some analysts have said would eat into SilkAir's business, the SIA unit has continued to stay aloft, mainly on the back of strong growth in regional travel.

Yesterday, Changi Airport Group said it handled 4.28 million passengers last month, about 11 per cent more than in August last year. Demand for air travel to and from South-east Asia and South Asia was strong, with double-digit growth registered.

Going forward, Mr Thng said SilkAir will continue to work with SIA to expand its market share.

About six in 10 SilkAir passengers have connecting flights on SIA.