Airways Top 10 Largest Chinese Airlines by Fleet Size

Airways Top 10 Largest Chinese Airlines by Fleet Size

DALLAS — China is one of the largest and fastest-growing aviation markets globally. Although the pandemic hit Chinese airlines, they still continued to invest in renewing and expanding their fleets.

With three airlines operating more than 450 aircraft each, the Chinese aviation market is huge. Further, as many as nine Chinese airlines are currently operating over 100 aircraft to destinations both within China and internationally.

China Southern Airlines (CZ) is currently the largest airline in China by fleet size, with over 600 aircraft in operation. The airline operates a mix of narrow-body and wide-body jets, including the Airbus A320 and A330 and the Boeing 737 and 777.

The fleet sizes mentioned in this article are based on aircraft currently owned or leased by Chinese airlines from data provided by Planespotters.net. We will take a look at the five largest airlines in China by fleet size, and discuss their history, operations, alliances, and primary hubs.

Note: Regional operations are also included under narrow-body jets for simplicity’s sake.

China Southern Airlines B-1297 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.Photo: Max Langley/Airways

1. China Southern Airlines (CZ), 652 Aircraft


China’s biggest carrier, by fleet size and market share, is China Southern Airlines. As of January 2023, China Southern operates a fleet of 652 aircraft, including a mix of Boeing and Airbus planes alongside a handful of Chinese-built planes.

The airline was founded in 1988 and is headquartered in Guangzhou. CZ operates flights to over 200 destinations worldwide, including many major cities in Asia, Europe, North America, and Australia. The airline is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, and it is fully owned by the Chinese government.

The Guanzhou-based carriers’ fleet comprises 113 widebodies and 539 narrowbodies. The Airbus A320 family is the most famous aircraft type in its fleet.

China Southern currently operates 13 Airbus A319s, 145 A320s, 154 A321s, 212 Boeing 737s, and 15 COMAC ARJ21s in the narrow-body segment. Meanwhile, China Southern flies 40 Airbus A330s, 16 A350s, 30 Boeing 777s, and 27 Boeing 787 Dreamliners in the wide-body segment.

China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

2. China Eastern Airlines (MU), 617 Aircraft


Not far behind, China Eastern Airlines has the second largest fleet in China, with a fleet of 617 aircraft, divided into 93 widebodies and 524 narrowbodies. Similar to CZ, Airbus A320 is the most famous aircraft in China Eastern’s fleet.

China Eastern Airlines was founded in 1988 and is headquartered in Shanghai. The airline operates flights to over 200 destinations worldwide, including many major cities in Asia, Europe, North America, and Australia. Alongside CZ, MU is also a member of the SkyTeam alliance, which includes many major airlines from around the world.

The Shanghai-based carrier currently operates 35 Airbus A319s, 265 A320s, 77 A321s, 146 Boeing 737s, and one COMAC C919 in the narrow-body segment. In the wide-body sector, MU flies 55 Airbus A330s, 15 A350s, 20 Boeing 777s, and 3 787 Dreamliners.

Air China B-1466 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Photo: Ryan Scottini/Airways

3. Air China (CA), 485 Aircraft


Sitting at number three on the list is the Chinese flag carrier, Air China. CA has a fleet of 485 aircraft, split into 128 widebodies and 357 narrowbodies. The Airbus A320 family is the most famous aircraft type in Air China’s fleet.

The airline operates a mix of narrow-body and wide-body jets, including the Airbus A320 and A330 and the Boeing 737 and 777, among others.

Air China was founded in 1988 and is headquartered in Beijing. CA operates flights to over 190 destinations worldwide, including many major cities around the world. Unlike CZ and MU, CA is a member of the Star Alliance.

Air China currently operates 33 Airbus A319s, 92 A320s, 90 A321s, 127 Boeing 737s, and 15 COMAC ARJ21s in the narrow-body segment. Meanwhile, Air China flies 53 Airbus A330s, 23 A350s, 10 Boeing 747s, 28 Boeing 777s, and 14 Boeing 787 Dreamliners in the wide-body segment.

Hainan Airlines Airbus A330-200 (B-6116). Photo: Tony Bordelais/Airways.

4. Hainan Airlines (HU), 217 Aircraft


Hainan Airlines is the fourth largest airline in China in terms of fleet size. As of January 2023, the airline operates a fleet of over 217 aircraft, including a mix of Boeing and Airbus planes. It operates 73 wide-body and 144 narrow-body aircraft. The Airbus A320 family is the most famous aircraft type in its fleet.

Hainan Airlines was founded in 1993 and is headquartered in Haikou, on the island of Hainan. The airline operates flights to over 90 destinations worldwide, including many major cities in Asia, Europe, and North America.

Hainan Airlines currently operates 144 Boeing 737s in the narrow-body segment. Meanwhile, it flies 33 Airbus A330s, 2 A350s, and 38 Boeing 787 Dreamliners in the wide-body segment.

A Shenzhen Airlines Boeing 737. Photo: Byeangel from Tsingtao, China – B-5771 | Shenzhen Airlines | Boeing 737-87L(WL) | PEK, CC BY-SA 2.0

5. Shenzen Airlines (ZH), 198 Aircraft


Coming up next in fifth position is Shenzen Airlines, which operates a fleet of 198 aircraft, including six wide-body and 192 narrow-body planes. The Airbus A320 is the most famous aircraft in its fleet.

Shenzen Airlines was founded in 1992 and is headquartered in Shenzen. The airline operates flights to over 74 destinations, including hundreds of city pairs in China and a handful of international routes. Since 2012, the airline has been a member of the Star Alliance along with CA.

Shenzen Airlines currently operates a fleet of five Airbus A319s, 103 A320s, one A321, and 83 Boeing 737s in the narrow-body segment. Meanwhile, ZH flies six Airbus A330s in the wide-body segment.

China has many other carriers with notable fleet sizes, which are listed as follows in terms of fleet size:

Sichuan Airlines Airbus A350-941. Photo: Luca Flores/airways

6. Sichuan Airlines (3U)


Fleet Size: 185 Aircraft, including a mix of 19 widebodies and 166 narrowbodies

Primary Hub / Base: Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU)

Xiamen Airlines B-2768 Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. Photo: Daniel Gorun/Airways

7. Xiamen Airlines (MF)


Fleet Size: 163 Aircraft, including a mix of 12 widebodies and 151 narrowbodies

Primary Hub / Base: Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport (XMN)

Shandong Airlines B-5651 Boeing 737-85N. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

8. Shandong Airlines (SC)


Fleet Size: 132 Aircraft, all narrow-body fleet of 132 Boeing 737s

Primary Hub / Base: Jinan Yaoqiang International Airport (TNA)

Spring Airlines B-8370 Airbus A320-214. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

9. Spring Airlines (9C)


Fleet Size: 116 Aircraft, all narrow-body fleet of 107 Airbus A320s and 9 A321s

Primary Hub / Base: Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG)

Tianjin Airlines B-302X Airbus A321 ( 100th Aircraft Livery). Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

10. Tianjin Airlines (GS)


Fleet Size: 99 Aircraft, including a mix of six widebodies and 93 narrowbodies

Primary Hub / Base: Tianjin Binhai International Airport (TSN)

It’s worth noting that the fleet size is a dynamic metric and subject to change and that airlines are always expanding and updating their fleets.

However, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the market has been affected. Before COVID-19, the Chinese aviation market had been growing rapidly. Additionally, many Chinese airlines were expanding their international routes.

All the above-mentioned airlines have played a significant role in China’s domestic and international aviation market, connecting people and businesses across the country and around the world. These airlines have also contributed to the growth of the Chinese economy by providing employment opportunities and generating revenue through tourism and trade.

The Chinese government has been working to liberalize the aviation industry, allowing more private investment and competition. This has led to the creation of new airlines and the expansion of existing ones. However, the government still maintains a significant degree of control over the industry, with state-owned enterprises dominating the market.

One of the biggest challenges facing these Chinese airlines is the increasing competition from low-cost carriers that are able to offer lower prices and more flexible ticketing options in both domestic and international markets.

How do you see the Chinese aviation market in the coming years? Be sure to leave your comments on our social media channels.


Featured image: China Southern Airlines B-1297 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.Photo: Max Langley/Airways

Sharad Ranabhat mainly covers feature stories alongside other interesting articles. Having written for Sam Chui, Airlive, Travel Radar, Aviation Nepal and others, he aims to cover as many feature stories as possible here at Airways Magazine.

You cannot copy content of this page