The China National Aviation Corporation (中國航空公司;, abbrev 中航; CNAC) was a major airline in the Republic of China and currently an aviation holdings company in the People's Republic of China that owns a majority of Air China.
It was established in 1929 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 CNAC under the control of banker and aviator Harold Bixby.
During World War II, together with the Chinese Air Company, CNAC flew supplies from Kashmir India into South Western China through The Hump Route after the Japanese blocked the Burma Road. Despite the large casualty inflicted by the Japanese and more significantly the ever-changing weather over the Himalayas, the logistics flights ran around the clock from April 1942 until end of the war.
CNAC eventually operated routes from Shanghai to Beijing (Peking), Chongqing (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-4 to serve route between Shanghai and San Francisco.
The downfall of CNAC's operation 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 for he 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 had also move to Mainland China at a later date. Remaining aircraft in Hong Kong had transferred to Civil Air Transport Inc. managed by the Nationalist in an effort to save the aircraft from the Communists.
CNAC ceased operations in Mainland China following the Communist revolution of 1949 when 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. 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 (CNAH) Company and is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (code 1110).
CNAC is currently in talks with China Eastern Airlines to purchase up to 30% of the latter airline.