The airline was established in 2004 in an effort to merge the major aviation assets of Hainan Airlines, China Xinhua Airlines, Chang'an Airlines and Shanxi Airlines, and received its operating licence from the Civil Aviation Administration of China in 2007. Scheduled flights were launched under the brand name Grand China Express Air, using 29-32 seat Fairchild Dornier 328JET aircraft. At that time, the company was China's largest regional airline, operating on 78 routes linking 54 cities. On 10 June 2009, the company name was changed to Tianjin Airlines. As of August 2011, 63 destinations are served (excluding those operated on behalf of Hainan Airlines), though by 2012, the airline intends to fly on more than 450 routes linking at least 90 cities, taking more than 90% of the domestic regional aviation market.
On June 29, 2012 there was an attempted hijacking of Tianjin Airlines Flight 7554, an Embraer ERJ-190, by six ethnic Uyghur men. Passengers and crew overpowered the hijackers. The aircraft returned to Hotan at 12:45 pm, where 11 passengers and crew and two hijackers were treated for injuries. Two hijackers died of injuries they sustained during the fight on the aircraft. The incident marked the first serious hijacking attempt in China since 1990.