China National Aviation Corporation

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Air China Plaza (国航大厦 Guó Háng Dàshà), the headquarters of the China National Aviation Holding Company, in Beijing

The China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) is a fully owned subsidiary of the state-owned aviation holding company China National Aviation Holding in the People's Republic of China, possessing a majority of Air China and Air Macau. Prior to the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, it was a major airline in the Republic of China.

As of 1938 it was headquartered in Shanghai.[1]


Roundel of CNAC (1929-1949).

In 1929, it was established as China Airways by Curtiss-Wright, under the leadership of U.S. airline magnate Clement Melville Keys. In 1933, after a series of disastrous accidents and disagreements with Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, Keys sold the company to Pan American Airways, under the control of Keys' arch-rival Juan Trippe. Pan Am placed the company under the control of banker and aviator Harold Bixby. When the Japanese invasion of China in 1937 overran all of China's maritime access, its Chinese Air Company was merged with China Airways into the China National Aviation Company (CNAC), with Pan Am owning 45% of the operation and the government the remaining 55%.

Between 1937 and December 1941, CNAC flew many internal routes with Douglas Dolphin amphibians (Route No. 3, from Shanghai – Canton, via Wenchow, Foo-chow, Amoy & Swatow), and Douglas DC-2s and DC-3s. In addition, three examples of the Vultee V-1A single-engine transport that "missed the boat" to Republican Spain ended up in China. Initially, the Nationalists maintained contact with the outside world through the port of Hanoi in French Indo-China, but the Japanese put pressure on the new pro-Vichy regime there to cut off relations with them in 1940–41. Flying in mainland China during the war with Japan was dangerous. A CNAC aircraft was the first passenger aircraft in history to be destroyed by enemy forces, in the Kweilin Incident in August 1938.[citation needed]

By fall 1940, CNAC operated service from Chungking (via Kunming and Lashio) to Rangoon, Chengdu, Kiating (via Luchow and Suifu) and Hong Kong (via Kweilin).[2]

During World War II, CNAC was headquartered in India, and flew supplies from Assam, India, into Yunnan, southwestern China through the Hump Route over the Himalayas, after the Japanese blocked the Burma Road. Despite the large casualties inflicted by the Japanese and more significantly, the ever-changing weather over the Himalayas, the logistics flights operated daily, year round, from April 1942 until the end of the war. The CNAC was a smaller part of the overall re-supply operations which included the USAAF's India-China Division of Air Transport Command.

On 8, 9 and 10 December 1941, eight American pilots of the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) and their crews made a total of 16 trips between Kai Tak Airport in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, then under attack from Japanese forces, and Chungking, the wartime capital of the Republic of China.[3] Together they made 16 sorties and evacuated 275 persons including Soong Ching-ling (the widow of Sun Yat-sen), and the Chinese Finance Minister H.H. Kung.

After World War II, in 1946, CNAC moved from India to Shanghai, specifically Longhua Airport, located on the western shore of the Huangpu River, 10 km from the center of Shanghai. The company was a huge organization, with departments for transportation, mechanics, medicine, food, finance, etc. The employees who numbered in the thousands were housed in dormitories located in the Shanghai French Concession. Every morning, the company took the employees by a car convoy from the dormitories to the airport.[4]

CNAC eventually operated routes from Shanghai to Beiping (now Beijing), Chungking and Guangzhou (Canton), using Douglas DC-2 and DC-3 aircraft. Apart from purchasing war surplus planes, CNAC had also acquired brand new Douglas DC-4s, to serve the route between Shanghai and San Francisco.

The downfall of CNAC's operations came on 9 November 1949, when managing director of CNAC, Colonel CY Liu, and general manager of CATC (Central Aviation Transport Corporation), Colonel CL Chen with a skeleton crew defected - by unauthorised take- offs of 12 aircraft, from Hong Kong Kai Tak Airport to Communist-controlled China. The lead aircraft ( Convair 240) was welcomed with pomp and ceremony in Beijing, while the other 11 landed safely in Tianjin. All aeroplanes were being pursued by KMT fighter planes - but on the day were shielded by heavy cloud cover. The remaining airline staff with their families ( a total of 3,400 ) sneaked into China by land or sea later. The ideology behind the defection was nationalism- as they believed there should only be : one, strong China. Today the original Convair 240 ( with one engine missing) is on display at a Military Aviation Museum in Beijing.

The remaining 71 aircraft in Hong Kong were sold by the Nationalists to the Delaware-registered Civil Air Transport Inc ( CAT) in an effort to save the aircraft from the Communists. After a lengthy legal battle ( which went on appeal from Hong Kong to Privy Council in UK - as reported in 1951 Appeal Cases ) the planes were delivered by the Hong Kong government to CATI in 1952.

CNAC ceased operations in mainland China, following the Communist revolution of 1949, when the Civil Aviation Administration of China took over to become the sole airline / Civil Aviation Authority of China. Today, CNAC remains a SOE of China, and was incorporated in Hong Kong ( by C Y Liu personally ). CNAC is a major shareholder of Cathay Pacfic ( CX) Airlines which in turn owns Cathay Dragon Air.

In the 1980s, CNAC acted as the overseas ticket agency of CAAC. CNAC launched its own airline, CNAC Zhejiang, in Hangzhou, with Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft and later, Airbus A320 and A319 aircraft, with the same logo painted on the aircraft's tails as in 1929. It had three Boeing 737-300 in service. CNAC merged into Air China, along with China Southwest Airlines, in 2004, when the CAAC decided to consolidate the nine major state-owned airlines into three groups. The new Air China is in turned owned by the China National Aviation Holdings Company (CNAH) and is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (code 1110).


China National Aviation Corporation is the majority owner of several airlines and subsidiaries, including:
Airline share ownership and subsidiaries:

Other operations:


As of April 2013, the Air China and subsidiaries fleet consists of the following aircraft.[citation needed]

China National Aviation Corporation fleet
Type In service Orders Operators
Airbus A319-100 64 0 Air China, Air Macau, Shenzhen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines
Airbus A320-200 138 22 Air China, Air Macau, Shenzhen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines
Airbus A320neo 0 33 Air China
Airbus A321-100 3 0 Air Macau, Sichuan Airlines
Airbus A321-200 76 11 Air China, Air Macau, Sichuan Airlines
Airbus A330-200 34 0 Air China, Sichuan Airlines
Airbus A330-300 20 6 Air China, Sichuan Airlines
Airbus A350-900 0 10 Air China
Boeing 737 MAX 0 34 Shandong Airlines
Boeing 737-700 34 0 Air China, Kunming Airlines, Shandong Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines
Boeing 737-800 236 99 Air China, Dalian Airlines, Shandong Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines
Boeing 737-900 5 0 Shenzhen Airlines
Boeing 747–400 4 0 Air China
Boeing 747-8I 1 6 Air China
Boeing 777-200 10 0 Air China
Boeing 777-300ER 20 0 Air China
Boeing 787–9 0 15 Air China
Bombardier CRJ-200 2 0 Shandong Airlines
Bombardier CRJ-700 2 0 Shandong Airlines
COMAC ARJ21-700 0 110 Henan Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines
COMAC C919 0 20 Air China
Embraer E-190 4 0 Henan Airlines
Xian MA60 0 2 Sichuan Airlines
Total 654 368

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • 8 August 1937: A Sikorsky S-43W (named Chekiang) ditched in Bias Bay due to weather, killing three of 11 on board; the eight survivors clung to the wing until rescued.
  • 24 August 1938: Douglas DC-2-221 32 (named Kweilin) made a forced landing after an attack by Japanese fighters; the aircraft was strafed on the ground, killing 14 of 17 on board; the aircraft was repaired and returned to service. Kweilin was the first commercial aircraft to be shot down.
  • 29 October 1940: Douglas DC-2-221 39 (Chungking) was attacked and destroyed on the ground by Japanese fighters after landing at Changyi Airfield, killing nine of 12 on board.
  • 20 January 1941: Ford AT-5-D Trimotor 23 struck a mountain in Jiangxi Province, killing five of six on board.
  • 12 February 1941: Douglas DC-2-190 40 (named Kangtang) struck a mountain near Taohsien, Hunan in a thunderstorm, killing the three crew.
  • 14 March 1942: Douglas DC-2-221 31 (named Chungshan) crashed on takeoff from Kunming Airport due to engine failure and overloading, killing 13 of 17 on board.
  • 17 November 1942: Douglas C-47 60 disappeared over the Himalayas while on a Kunming-Dinjan flight with three crew on board; the wreckage was found in 2011 on a Himalayan mountain at 13,400 feet.
  • 11 March 1943: Douglas C-53 53 crashed near Luishui after encountering a downdraft, killing the three crew.
  • 13 March 1943: Douglas C-53 49 disappeared while on a Kunming-Dinjan flight with three crew on board.
  • 7 April 1943: Douglas C-53 58 (also registered 42-15890) crashed on a mountain peak 30 mi NE of Minzong due to weather and icing, killing one of three crew.
  • 11 August 1943: Douglas C-53 48 crashed in the Fort Hertz valley following an in-flight fire and wing separation, killing the three crew; the aircraft was probably shot down.
  • 13 October 1943: Douglas C-47 72 crashed 125 km (78 mi) north of Myitkyina, Burma (now Myanmar), killing the three crew; the aircraft was probably shot down.
  • 19 November 1943: Two aircraft (Douglas C-53 59 and C-47 63) crashed while on approach to Wujiaba Airfield in poor weather, killing a total of five.
  • 18 December 1943: Douglas C-47A 83 crashed into a cliff near Suifu while attempting a go-around following an aborted landing below minimums, killing the three crew.
  • 20 February 1944: Douglas C-47A 75 crashed into a mountain after taking off from Dinjan Airfield after encountering turbulence while flying through a cloud, killing both pilots.
  • 26 May 1944: Douglas C-47 82 crashed in the Himalayas after overflying its destination due to weather and radio problems, killing all 12 on board.
  • 8 June 1944: Douglas C-47A 85 crashed near Dinjan Airport due to an in-flight fire and wing separation caused by improper maintenance, killing all six on board.
  • 20 October 1945: Douglas DC-3C 104 crashed in a village 13 mi northeast of Suichang, killing all 13 on board and seven villagers.
  • 20 September 1946: A CNAC aircraft struck the side of Lochi Mountain near Hsichia, killing all 31 on board; the aircraft was either a C-46 or a C-47.
  • 16 December 1946: A CNAC DC-3 crashed into three parked aircraft at Longhua Airport, killing five.
  • 25 December 1946: Three aircraft (two CNAC C-47's, 140 and 115 and Civil Air Transport C-46 48) crashed at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport in poor visibility, killing a total of 72 in what became known as China's "Black Christmas".
  • 5 January 1947: Curtiss C-46 XT-T51 (also registered as 121) struck a mountain near Qingdao, killing all 43 on board. The aircraft was operating a Shanghai-Qingdao-Beijing passenger service.
  • 25 January 1947: Douglas DC-3 138 crashed in a mountainous area 119 mi south of Chongqing, killing all 19 on board.
  • 28 January 1947: Curtiss C-46 XT-T45 (also registered as 145) crashed 30 minutes after takeoff from Hankou due to wing separation following an engine fire, killing 25 of 26 on board.
  • 25 October 1947: A Douglas DC-3 was shot down by Communist anti-aircraft fire and crashed near Yulin, killing two of the three crew.
  • 20 January 1948: A Curtiss C-46 crashed on takeoff from Mukden Airport in a snowstorm while operating an evacuation service, killing 11 of 54 on board.
  • 12 December 1948: A Douglas DC-3 crashed on landing at Sung Shan Airport, killing two of 10 on board.
  • 30 January 1949: A CNAC aircraft was hijacked by six people and diverted to Tainan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Flight International. 28 April 1938. p. 416 (Archive). "CHINA NATIONAL AVIATION CORP., 51, Canton Road, Shanghai."
  2. ^ October 1940 timetable
  3. ^ According to articles in the New York Times and the Chicago Daily of 15 December 1941, the pilot's names were Charles L. Sharp, Hugh L. Woods, Harold A. Sweet, William McDonald, Frank L. Higgs, Robert S. Angle, P.W. Kessler and S.E. Scott.
  4. ^ Rebecca Chan Chung, Deborah Chung and Cecilia Ng Wong, "Piloted to Serve", 2012
  5. ^ "Air China to take control of Shenzhen Airlines – People's Daily Online". People's Daily. 23 March 2010. Retrieved 30 December 2011. 
  6. ^ "Cathay Pacific to try and block Singapore Airlines report". Channel NewsAsia. 22 September 2007. Retrieved 30 December 2011. [dead link]
  7. ^
  8. ^
  • Combat aircraft of World War II, compiled by Elke C. Weal editorial consultant, J. M. Bruce. New York : Macmillan, c1977. ISBN 0-02-624660-0

External links[edit]

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