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China National Aviation Corporation


China National Aviation Corporation

China National Aviation Corporation
An Air China Boeing 747–400
Traditional Chinese 中國航空公司
Simplified Chinese 中国航空公司
Alternative Chinese name
Chinese 中航

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]


  • History 1
  • Subsidiaries 2
  • Fleet 3
  • Accidents and incidents 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7
  • Further reading 8


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.

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 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.[5]

The downfall of CNAC's operations came on 9 November 1949, when managing director Colonel C. Y. Liu, general manager of CATC (Central Aviation Transport Corporation), Colonel C. L. Chen and some of the staff declared their wish to be Communist. On the day, 12 aircraft from CNAC and CATC were flown, without acknowledgment, from Hong Kong Kai Tak Airport to Communist-controlled China. One aircraft arrived in Beijing, while the other 11 arrived at Tianjin. More remaining staff also moved to mainland China, at a later date. The remaining aircraft in Hong Kong were transferred to the Civil Air Transport Inc., managed by the Nationalists, in an effort to save the aircraft from the Communists.

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 of China. However, CNAC remains a subsidiary of CAAC and incorporated in Hong Kong.

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.

Accidents and incidents

  • August 8, 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.
  • August 24, 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.
  • October 29, 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.
  • January 20, 1941: Ford AT-5-D Trimotor 23 struck a mountain in Jiangxi Province, killing five of six on board.
  • February 12, 1941: Douglas DC-2-190 40 (named Kangtang) struck a mountain near Taohsien, Hunan in a thunderstorm, killing the three crew.
  • March 14, 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.
  • November 17, 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.
  • March 11, 1943: Douglas C-53 53 crashed near Luishui after encountering a downdraft, killing the three crew.
  • March 13, 1943: Douglas C-53 49 disappeared while on a Kunming-Dinjan flight with three crew on board.
  • April 7, 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.
  • August 11, 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 possibly shot down.
  • May 26, 1944: Douglas C-47 82 crashed in the Himalayas after overflying its destination due to weather and radio problems, killing all 12 on board.
  • June 8, 1944: Douglas C-47A 85 crashed near Dinjan Airport due to an in-flight fire and wing saperation caused by improper maintenance, killing all six on board.
  • December 25, 1946: Three aircraft (two CNAC C-47's, 140 and 115 and Civil Air Transport C-46 48) crashed at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport due to poor visibility, killing a total of 72 in what became known as China's "Black Christmas".
  • January 5, 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.
  • January 25, 1947: Douglas DC-3 138 crashed in a mountainous area 119 mi south of Chongqing, killing all 19 on board.

See also


  1. ^ Flight International. April 28, 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. ^ Century of Aviation in Hong Kong (香港航空百年), H. L. Song, 2003, Joint Publishing Co. Limited, Hong Kong
  6. ^ "Air China to take control of Shenzhen Airlines – People's Daily Online". People's Daily. 23 March 2010. Retrieved 30 December 2011. 
  7. ^ "Cathay Pacific to try and block Singapore Airlines report". Channel NewsAsia. 22 September 2007. Retrieved 30 December 2011. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  • 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

  • China National Aviation Corporation Official website
  • China National Aviation Holding Company Owner China National Aviation Holding official website
  • China National Aviation Corporation Official site for CNAC Association, a club formed in remembrance of the US staff who worked in the Republic of China-era CNAC.

Further reading

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