Airline Profile

Air China

By Gostar den Daas | February 2012
China's flag carrier.

Air China 中国国际航空公司 is the flag carrier and one of the major airlines of the People’s Republic of China. By fleet size Air China is the world’s 10th largest airline, nowadays consisting of mostly Western types. Air China was formed when the CAAC was split up in 6 different airlines.

In this airline profile we will look into de CAAC history and the modern day Air China.

Air China logo
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Air China was formed on 1 July 1988 when the government decided to split up the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) in 6 separate airlines. Air China was responsible for the intercontinental flights and took over the CAACs long haul aircraft and routes.

In 2001 Air China acquired China Southwest Airlines, and also started on domestic flights. In 2007 Air China joined Star Alliance.

In 2009 Air China raised its stake in Air Macau and Cathay Pacific. Expanding its presence in Macau and Hong Kong. In 2010 Air China became the controlling shareholder of Shenzhen Airlines enhancing its position in Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai.


The Civil Aviation Administration of China was formed in 1949 after the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. Like Aeroflot in Russia, the CAAC was managed by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and provided general flight services as well as commercial activities. Eventually the airline division was split up and the military ties were cut.

The CAAC started with Li-2s and Il-14s, when in 1963 6 Vickers Viscount were ordered. This was followed by 4 Hawker Siddeley Tridents bought from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in 1971. An addition six Tridents were ordered late 1971. Later on new Tridents were added, Boeing 707s and Il-62 were added for long-haul flights during the 70s and 80s.

678, Il-14

B-2207, Trident

1151, An-12

CAAC as an airline started in 1949 with scheduled domestic flights. In 1962 International flights were added to the schedule.

In 1987 several Western and Soviet types were in service. Antonov An-12/24/30, Airbus A300/310, Boeing 737, 747, 757 and 767, Tupolev Tu-154, Ilyushin 18 and McDonnell Douglas Dc-9/Md-82 were amongst the types used.

B-2024, Il-62

208, Il-18

B-3409, An-24

305, Li-2

N893PA, B707

503, Il-12

In 1987 the CAAC was split into six airlines, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, China Northwest Airlines, China Northern Airlines, China Southwest Airlines and Air China. The last inherited the codes of Air China. All CAAC aircraft were split up between the new airlines. Air China started with the Boeing 707, 747 and 767.


China National Aviation Corporation is a state owned holding company , possessing a major part of Air China (100%), Air Macau, Shenzhen Airlines, Cathay Pacific and China Eastern. CNAC is also 60 percent owner of the Ameco Beijing maintenance company. Prior to the creation of the People’s Republic of China, the CNAC was a major airline in the Republic of China (also known as Taiwan).

311, Li-2

XT-114, C-47

Present day Air China

Currently the fleet consists of Western types from Airbus and Boeing. Older types are phased out and gradually replaced by new ordered types like the A350, B787 and the Comac C919. The C919 will be a competitor for the A320 and B737 families.

B-2485, B747-8

B-2039, B777

B-6024, A319

B-2210, A320

B-6595, A321

B-6132, A330

Currently these aircraft are in service. Numbers between the brackets are on order.

Type In service Type In service
A31930B737-80097 (93)
A32037 (21)B747-4004
A32149 (9)B747-82 (5)
A330-30018 (5)B777-30020

New types on order 10 Airbus A350-900, 15 Boeing 787-900, 33 Arbus 320neo and 20 COMAC C919.

This list was noted November 2014. Any updates?

B-6091, A330

B-2613, B737

B-5213, B737

B-2670, B738

B-2447, B744

B-2060, B772

B-2064, B772

B-3988, Lj45

Besides the normal fleet, Air China is also using a Learjet 45 for corporate transports. Note the small Air China logo on the tail and Air China Business Jet titles on the fuselage.

Specials Colors

Air China not often paint aircraft in special colors. Although there were and still are some special colors flying around. For instance to celebrate the Beijing Olympics in 2002. Three examples seen here are the red / blue peacock, the “Zichen Hao” (Capital Pavilion Liner) and the Yellow Peony.

B-5422, B738

B-6076, A332

B-5198, B738


In 1995 the last Boeing 737-200 was retired from passenger service, followed by the Boeing 747-200 / 747SP in 2000. In 2004 the BAe-146 and in 2008 the single Boeing 737-500 followed by the 600 series a year later. In 2010 the last Boeing 767-200 was placed out of commission. All remaining Boeing 757s were stored, and now converted to freighters. 6 Airbus 340-300s and 4 Boeing 767-300s are stored.

B-2627, B733

B-5037, B736

B-2454, B747SP

B-2553, B762

B-2495, B763

B-2826, B752

B-2385, A343

Air China Cargo

Air China Cargo started as a all cargo subsidiary of Air China December 2003. The airline now operates to 10 countries around the world. During startup Boeing 747-200s, both all cargo and converted passenger aircrafts were in use. Nowadays 6 Boeing 747-400F and 5 777-F aircraft are in service. In the near future 4 converted Air China 757s and 4 new Tu-204s will be added as well.

B-2446, B747

B-2462, B747

B-3152, An-12

B-2098, B777

B-2453, B747
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