In 1923, ZAKAVIA, the Caucasus Joint Stock Company of Civil Aviation, was founded by the Mughan Melioration Construction, the Caspian Shipping Company, and AzNeft.
In 1926, regular flights began on the route Mineralnye Vody – Grozny – Makhachkala – Baku – Yevlakh – Tbilisi. Three years later, the international route Kharkov – Baku – Pehlevi was opened.
In 1929, ZAKAVIA and similar organizations in the Soviet republics were merged into the predecessor of Aeroflot, Dobrolyot USSR.
In 1933, a first flight to Moscow was carried out over the Caucasus ridge, shortening the distance of the route by 1100 km. A regular route Baku – Moscow, operated by local aircraft KHAI-1 and Steel-3 carrying 15 passengers a day, was opened in 1937.
During World War II, Azerbaijani aviation was largely reoriented to military ends. After World War II, Azerbaijani pilots resumed carrying passengers and goods. New aircraft, such as Li-2, Il-14, Il-18, An-24, special purpose An-2 planes, and Mi-1 and Mi-4 helicopters, emerged on routes originating from Baku.
In the 1970-80s, a total of 11 districts of the republic were linked to Baku by air routes. Airports fitted with soft-surface runways to accommodate Yak-40 jets were built in Ganja, Yevlakh Nakhchivan, Naftalan, Zagatala, Lenkoran,Agdam, Agstafa, and Sheki. Thanks to the efforts of Azerbaijan’s leader Heydar Aliyev, the Azerbaijani aviation fleet was among the first to receive Tu-134 and Tu-154 jet planes and Mi-2 and Mi-8 helicopters.
In 1990, after the break-up of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan announced that it was setting up its own airline, independent of Aeroflot, the long-time provider of air services for the Soviet republics. In partnership with Turkish Airlines, a scheduled Baku – Istanbul route was launched in January 1991.
On August 17, 1992, Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL), also known as Azerbaijan Hava Yollari, was officially established. From the regional branch of Aeroflot, Azerbaijan Airlines inherited a huge fleet, including more than 20 Tupolev airliners, 90 light aircraft, some regional airliners and freighters, and 50 helicopters. It also leased a pair of Boeing 727s that once belonged to PanAm.
In November 1994, AZAL Azerbaijan Airlines began a route to Dubai and soon was also flying to China, London, Tehran, Tel Aviv, and Saint Petersburg.
In the mid-1990s, Azerbaijan worked out a deal to acquire a number of Boeing airliners – the 737, 757, 767, and 777 models. AZAL Azerbaijan Airlines was also operating ten smaller Yak-40 trijets and several Antonov turboprops.
In January 1999, with the exception of a few major cities, service to neighboring countries was suspended due to debt. These routes were generally unprofitable and were facing new competition from trains, domestic flights accounting for only about 16% of AZAL’s traffic (according to the Trend News Agency).
In the fall of 2000, the first Boeing 757 was delivered, offering AZAL Azerbaijan Airlines unprecedented range, efficiency and comfort on long-haul international routes. Together with the second Boeing 757 delivered arrived in December, the aircraft helped project a modern image to the world. In January 2001, AZAL Azerbaijan Airlines used one of theplanes to begin operating a Paris – Baku route in collaboration with Air France.
In 2004, two of AZAL’s aircraft were impounded by Turkey over a 12-year-old debt owed by Azerbaijan’s Agriculture Ministry to a Turkish company. AZAL ordered new 52-passenger An-140 turboprops to replenish its regional fleet, three A319 mid-size airliners and one Airbus Corporate Jetliner (ACJ), for use as an official state aircraft.
In 2005, with flights to Delhi and Karachi, AZAL Azerbaijan Airlines began serving the Indian subcontinent. Azerbaijan and Pakistan were working to build trade between the two predominantly Muslim countries.
In April 2008, by the order of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, the State Concern Azerbaijan Airlines was transformed into a Closed Joint-Stock Company Azerbaijan Airlines.
In the second half of the 2000s, AZAL’s fleet welcomed aircraft such as Airbus A319, ATR 42-500, and ATR 72-500. In 2013, ATR aircraft were retired, and Embraer ERJ 170 and ERJ 190 were added to the fleet.
In 2010, after Azerbaijan Airlines and Boeing signed an agreement to substitute two 737 aircraft for one 767-300ER (extended range) and two 767 Freighters, Azerbaijan Airlines had a total of eight Boeing airplanes on order: two 767-300ERs, two 767 Freighters, and two 787-8s.
In January 2011, AZAL Azerbaijan Airlines received the European service standard by unanimous decision from the European Economic Chamber of Trade,Commerce and Industry (EEIG).
In June 2011, Azerbaijan Airlines took delivery of the first of two Boeing 767-300 aircraft ordered. The second aircraft of this type was delivered in June 2012.
In September 2014, AZAL Azerbaijan Airlines started scheduled flights from Baku to New York – JFK. Direct non-stop flights to New York, operated with modern and high-end comfortable Airbus-340 aircraft, are a milestone in the modern history of Azerbaijan Airlines and show the movement to a new level of its development.
In December 2014, AZAL Azerbaijan Airlines took delivery of the 2 Boeing 787 Dreamliners it had on order, becoming the first carrier operating this type of aircraft in the CIS. Along with the introduction of the 787 Dreamliner, the airline also launched its Premium Economy product.
In June 2015, AZAL Azerbaijan Airlines received a prestigious “4 Stars” from Skytrax, the leader in air transport research. At the same time, Azerbaijan’s national carrier was nominated in the global category “Most Improved Airline” of the World Airline Awards, ranking second among such global carriers as Air France and Delta Air Lines at the Paris Airshow.
Starting July 2015, AZAL further improved its product by introducing a new class of elite passenger service – Business LUX class. The new class of service is available on flights to New York, London, and Beijing operated with Airbus A340 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
In 2016, Azerbaijan Airlines established the first Azerbaijan low-cost airline, Buta Airways. The fully owned subsidiary of Azerbaijan Airlines received its own livery and logo in June 2017 and began operation in September, serving 12 destinations in 6 countries with a fleet of 7 Embraer E-190 aircraft.
In November 2017, Azerbaijan Airlines placed an order for five Boeing B787-8 Dreamliners scheduled for delivery for 2019-2020. The additional Dreamliners will help the airline to expand its route network and handle increasing passenger traffic.
At the 2018 Skytrax World Airline Awards, Azerbaijan Airlines was named, for the first time, the Best Regional Airline in Central Asia and India, while maintaining the prestigious “4 Star” rating.
By 2019, Azerbaijan Airlines will start operating Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, and, by the end of 2020, 10 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft will be added to the fleet.
Since 1992, AZAL Azerbaijan Airlines aircraft were involved in 4 deadly accidents and one hijacking with no casualties in 2000. The deadliest accident happened in December 1995 when 2 crew members and 50 passengers were killed, and 30 people injured. The last deadly accident happened in December 2005 when an Antonov An-140 en route to Aktau plunged into the Caspian Sea about 20 miles north of Baku, killing all 18 passengers and 5 crew members; following this fatal crash, the airline grounded its other remaining An-140 airplanes.