You won’t believe how many airlines China has

China has experienced an aviation boom over the last two decades and now has more airlines than the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain combined. Key.Aero reveals the true extent of the county’s air transport revolution 

China’s commercial aviation industry has been growing since 1987, when the country’s government separated the airline operations of the aviation regulator, the then-called General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (GACAC), into a number of state-owned enterprises. 

CAAC Airlines
From 1949-1988, CAAC Airlines was the monopoly civil airline in China. Wikimedia Commons/Michel Gilliand

The regulatory role was retained by the GACAC, which is now known as the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), but several regional operators were set up following the break-up of the single state-run carrier, CAAC Airlines (not to be confused the new regulator). 

Hainan Airlines is the fourth largest airline in China by fleet size. Aviation Image Network/Bailey

Six carriers emerged from the division with names relating to their geographic location, including Air China, China Southwest Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, China Northwest Airlines, China Southern Airlines and China Northern Airlines. These operators later consolidated into the country’s ‘Big Three’: Beijing-based Air China, Guangzhou’s China Southern Airlines and Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines. 

Air China
Air China is the largest airline in the country - last year it carried 115m passengers. Aviation Image Network/Bailey

The 1980s also saw the emergence of four other state-owned operators including Hainan Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Sichuan Airlines and XiamenAir. All four are subsidiaries of the ‘Big Three’ and most have affiliates of their own. The eighth and final ‘major’ carrier of China is the Air China subsidiary, Shenzhen Airlines, which commenced operations in 1993. 

Smaller Operators 

The majority of the smaller carriers in the country are owned by or linked with the Big Three. Chinese conglomerate HNA Group has interests in more than ten airlines, while China Eastern, Air China and China Southern own three, three and one, respectively. 

Each operator caters for a specific geographical area – as the country is so large it necessitates the need for so many different airlines. 

In total, China has 43 scheduled passenger airlines. 

Non-major Chinese Airlines
Airline City Year Parent Company
Juneyao Air Shangnai 2005 Shanghai Juneyao (Group) Co Ltd
9 Air Guangzhou 2014 Juneyao Air
Air Guilin Guilin 2016 HNA Group
Air Changan Xi’an 1993 HNA Group
Air Travel Kunming 2016
Beijing Capital Airlines Beijing 1995 HNA Group
Chengdu Airlines Chengdu 2005 Sichuan Airlines
China Express Airlines Chongqing 2006
China United Airlines Fengtai District 1986 China Eastern Airlines
Chongqing Airlines Chongqing 2007 China Southern Airlines
Colorful Guizhou Airlines Guizhou 2015 Guizhou Industrial Investment (Group) Co
Dalian Airlines Dalian 2011 Air China
Donghai Airlines Shenzhen 2002 Sichuan Airlines
Fuzhou Airlines Fuzhou 2014 HNA Group
Genghis Khan Airlines Hohhot 2019
Grand China Air Haikou 2007 HNA Group
GX Airlines Guangxi 2015 Tianjin Airlines
Hebei Airlines Shijiazhuang 2010 XiamenAir
Jiangxi Air Nanchang 2016 XiamenAir
Joy Air Xi’an 2009 China Eastern Airlines
Kunming Airlines Kunming 2009 Air China
LJ Air Harbin 2017
Loong Air Hangzhou 2013
Lucky Air Kunming 2006 HNA Group
Okay Airways Beijing 2005 Okay Airways
OTT Airlines Shanghai 2020 China Eastern Airlines
Qingdao Airlines Qingdao 2014 Nanshan Group
Ruili Airlines Kunming 2014 Yunnan Jingcheng Group Co
Shandong Airlines Shandong 1994 Shandong Aviation Group
Spring Airlines Shanghai 2004 Spring Airlines
Suparna Airlines Shanghai 2003 HNA Group
Tianjin Airlines Tianjin 2007 HNA Group
Tibet Airlines Lhasa, Tibet 2010 Air China
Urumqi Air Urumchi 2014 HNA Group
West Air Chongqing 2010 HNA Group