China Northwest Airlines is one of the six successors of CAAC Airlines, China’s state-owned airline, which once operated all services. In 1988, the Chinese government decided to split CAAC Airlines (the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s airline division) into six separate airlines. Of the six airlines, five were meant to be regional, consisting of China Eastern, China Southern, China Northwest, China Southwest, and China Northern.
Air China would operate as the international airline, with its hub at Beijing Capital Airport (PEK). However, in the 2000s, the Chinese government decided to consolidate the six airlines into three. Therefore, Air China merged with China Southwest, China Eastern with China Northwest, and China Southern with China Northern. This is why there are only three main state-owned Chinese airlines – Air China, China Eastern, and China Southern.
China Northwest Airlines’ fleet
Since its establishment in 1988, China Northwest Airlines operated a relatively diverse fleet with a mix of Airbus, Boeing, British Aerospace, Antonov, and Tupolev aircraft. There was a clear shift from Soviet-made aircraft in the late 1980s and early 1990s to American and European-manufactured aircraft in the 2000s. This also coincided with China Northwest’s expansion of international destinations, such as Japan.
Establishment of China Northwest – 1988 to 1991
China Northwest Airlines was established in 1988 as a successor to the original CAAC Airlines. China Northwest inherited three British Aerospace 146-100 aircraft, as well as seven Tu-154M aircraft.
The British Aerospace 146-100 is a short-to-medium haul aircraft produced by British Aerospace, which became a part of BAE Systems. Its production began in 1983 and ceased in 2001. The aircraft could seat 94 people in a high-density configuration.
The Tu-154M is a three-engined, medium-range aircraft manufactured by Tupolev. It was predominantly used by Soviet and subsequently Russian airlines but was also operated by other airlines, such as China Northwest. In its high-density configuration, the aircraft could accommodate up to 164 passengers.
International Expansion – 1992 to 1998
Between the years 1992 and 1998, China Northwest saw a huge increase in its fleet size, particularly in internationally-manufactured aircraft such as by Airbus and British Aerospace. This also coincided with the growth of the Chinese economy and its expansion abroad. Aircraft such as the Airbus A300-600, Airbus A310-200, Airbus A320ceo, and British Aerospace 146-300 were all ordered and delivered at the time. However, the carrier did not order any Boeing aircraft.
Retirement of Soviet aircraft – 1999 to 2004
In 2002, the airline was absorbed into China Eastern, and the transferral of aircraft was gradual. Nevertheless, following its international expansion, China Northwest decided to slowly retire some of its old Soviet aircraft, beginning with Tu-154M in 1999. The airline had owned ten of the type but had retired three in previous years. However, in 1999, China Northwest retired all the remaining seven in one year. Despite these retirements, the airline’s fleet size only had a slight reduction from 31 to 29, as the airline was taking delivery of new aircraft. In 2004, the airline officially ceased to exist, as all of its properties were transferred to China Eastern.