Air China was born on the 1st of July 1988, as a result of a decision to split the operating divisions of Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) into separate entities.
The CAAC was split in late 1987 into Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, China Northern, China Southwest and China Northwest.
Back in 1988, Air China was headquartered in Beijing and handled intercontinental flights operating CAAC’s long and medium haul Boeing aircraft.
By 1998, Air China’s fleet reached 65 aircraft, and the carrier was serving 144 routes.
In January 2001, an agreement has been established between the ten airlines members of CAAC, in which a merger plan was announced. After acquiring China Southwest Airlines and China International Airlines, Air China consolidated with China National Aviation Corporation and China Southwest Airlines one year later, on the 28th of October.
In 2004, Air China absorbed Zhejiang Airlines and listed its shares on the Hong Kong and London Stock Exchanges, and also on the Shanghai Stock Exchange – on the 18th of August 2006.
In December 2006, São Paulo became the first South American destination served by Air China (via Madrid), and also Air China’s longest direct flight. Although this service was initially conceived for a Boeing 767-300 aircraft, due to increased demand, the aircraft was changed with a larger one, namely an Airbus A330-200.
Air China joined the Star Alliance in 2006, and, by the 12th of December 2007, became a full member of the aforementioned alliance, together with Shanghai Airlines.
Air China expanded further its share holding regarding Shenzhen Airlines – thus becoming its main controlling shareholder in April 2010. This move consolidated its position in China’s capital, as well as in Chengdu and Shanghai, resulting in a significantly improved domestic flight network.
The “Plaque for Tourist Merit” award was won by Air China on the 2nd of December 2010. This is Spain’s highest tourism industry award, and Air China was the first foreign airline to receive it.
The 23rd of December 2010 marks the date when Air China became the first Chinese airline to place at its clients’ disposal combined tickets including both domestic flights and shuttle bus services to the nearby cities. The first flight to function by this scheme connected Tianjin with domestic flights via Beijing.
Drawing a line after the year 2010, the total international and domestic passengers carried raised to 60 millions, its average loading factor being 80%.
Starting with the 15th of November 2011, Wi-Fi internet services were provided on board of its aircrafts, making Air China the first national carrier to implement to service.
On January 15, 2013, an announcement has been made that Air China plans on offering constant flights from Beijing to Houston. This initiative is expected to take effect in July 2013, this route being filled by a Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, but this is currently waiting for the US Department of Transportation’s approval.
In January 2014, Air China launched service to Hawaii with the first nonstop flights between Beijing and Honolulu, and in June introduced new nonstop service from Beijing to Washington-Dulles, operated by Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.
In September 2015, Air China introduced 3-times-weekly flights to Montreal, Air China’s second Canadian destination after Vancouver. The Montreal flight was extended to Havana from December 2015. The airline also started direct flights to Johannesburg, South Africa, in October 2015.
In May 2016, Air China officially unveiled its first B787-9 Dreamliner of 15 Dreamliners set to join the airline’s fleet. The national flag carrier, the first airline in the country to have a B787-9 Dreamliner enter into service, will use its 787-9s to expand its international network through non-stop point-to-point services.
In January 2016, Air China finalized its order for six additional Boeing 777-300 ER aircraft. The airline continues to modernize its long-haul fleet by replacing aging aircraft and plans to expand its growing international network. Air China currently operates a fleet 174 Boeing airplanes, and, with this new order, will increase its unfilled orders with Boeing to 90 aircraft.
In July 2017, in its schedule update, Air China moved forward to September 2017 its planned nonstop Beijing – Athens service, previously scheduled for November. Airbus A330 aircraft is operating this route twice a week.
In August 2018, Air China took delivery of its first Airbus A350 900 aircraft, which is now operating on a few domestic routes, as well as international flights to Frankfurt, London, Milan, and Munich. There are 312 seats in a three-class cabin layout: 32 Business Class lie-flat seats, 24 Premium Economy seats, and 256 Economy seats.
In July 2019, Air China confirmed a new order for 20 Airbus A350-900 aircraft, scheduled for delivery from 2020 to 2022. The Chinese flag carrier that already has 10 A350-900 aircraft in its fleet has the option to swap the last five aircraft to the A350-1000 larger variant.
Air China planes were involved in a single accident that ended up with fatalities – in April 2002, Flight 129, a Boeing 767-200ER, crashed into a hill near the Gimhae International Airport. 129 of the 166 people on board perished.