National carrier

"National airline" redirects here. For a list of airline companies named National Airlines, see National Airlines (disambiguation).
This article is about transportation companies having flag carrier status. For a naval ship which carries the flag, see flagship. For a person who carries the flag, see Flag bearer. For other uses, see flag carrier (disambiguation).

A flag carrier is a transportation company, such as an airline or shipping company, that, being locally registered in a given state, enjoys preferential rights or privileges accorded by the government for international operations. The term also refers to any carrier that is or was owned by a government,[1] even long after their privatization. [2]

Flag carriers may be known as such due to maritime law requiring all aircraft or ships to display the state flag of the country of their registry.[3]

A flag carrier (if it is a certificated airline rather than a holding company, conglomerate, or multinational private equity firm) may also be known as a national airline or a national carrier, although this can have different legal meanings in some countries.


The first definition is rooted in the fact that pursuant to Article 17 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation aircraft have the nationality of the state in which they are registered.[4] U.S. law (14 CFR § 121.153 (a) (1)) requires American air carriers to operate aircraft registered in the United States and most countries have similar laws.[5] Thus when an airline operates an international route, between two countries, having been designated [6] pursuant to a Bilateral Air Transport Agreement any crime that would be committed on board would be prosecuted under the laws of the airline's state. Article 3 (1) of Tokyo Convention declares that "The State of registration [of the aircraft] is competent to exercise jurisdiction over “offenses and acts committed on board.”" Therefore the aircraft is truly carrying the flag of its country.[7] The American definition of "U.S.-flag air carrier service" contained in 48 CFR 47.403-1.[8] is based on this first definition. The U.S. requirements under the Fly America Act,[9] are consistent with requiring that Title 18 of the United States Code (U.S. Criminal Law) would protect U.S. government employees on flights to foreign countries.

The second and more broadly used definition of "flag carrier" is a legacy of the time when countries established state-owned airline companies. Governments then took the lead due to the high capital costs of establishing and running airlines. However, not all such airlines were government-owned; Pan Am, TWA, Cathay Pacific, Union de Transports Aériens, Canadian Pacific Air Lines and Olympic Airlines were all privately owned. Most of these were considered to be flag carriers[10] as they were the "main national airline"[11] and often a sign of their country's presence abroad.[12][13]

The heavily regulated aviation industry also meant aviation rights are often negotiated between governments, denying airlines the right to an open market. These Bilateral Air Transport Agreements similar to the Bermuda I and Bermuda II agreements specify rights awardable only to locally registered airlines, forcing some governments to jump-start airlines to avoid being disadvantaged in the face of foreign competition. Some countries also establish flag carriers such as Israel's El Al[14] or Lebanon's Middle East Airlines[15] for nationalist reasons, or to aid the country's economy, particularly in the area of tourism.[16]

In many cases, governments would directly assist in the growth of their flag carriers typically through subsidies and other fiscal incentives. The establishment of competitors in the form of other locally registered airlines may be prohibited, or heavily regulated to avoid direct competition.[17] Even where privately run airlines may be allowed to be established, the flag carriers may still be accorded priority, especially in the apportionment of aviation rights to local or international markets.[18]

In the last two decades, however, many of these airlines have since been corporatized as a public company or a state-owned enterprise, or completely privatized.[19] The aviation industry has also been gradually deregulated and liberalized,[20] permitting greater freedoms of the air particularly in the United States and in the European Union with the signing of the Open Skies agreement.[21] One of the features of such agreements is the right of a country to designate multiple airlines to serve international routes with the result that there is no single "flag carrier".[22]

List of flag-carrying airlines

The chart below lists airlines considered to be a "flag carrier", based on current or former state ownership, or other verifiable designation as a national airline.

Country/Region Airline Details of current state ownership Details of former state ownership
 Afghanistan Ariana Afghan Airlines[23] Majority[24]
 Algeria Air Algérie[25] State-owned[26]
 Angola TAAG Angola Airlines[27] State-owned
 Argentina Aerolíneas Argentinas[28] State-owned[28]
 Australia Qantas[29] None State-owned until 1992[30]
 Austria Austrian Airlines[31] None - owned by Lufthansa State-owned until 5 Dec 2008[32]
 Azerbaijan Azerbaijan Airlines[33]
 Bahamas Bahamasair[34] State-owned
 Bahrain Gulf Air[35]
 Bangladesh Biman Bangladesh Airlines[36] Public-limited company State-owned until 23 July 2007
 Belarus Belavia[37] State-owned[37]
 Belgium Brussels Airlines[38] None
 Bhutan Druk Air[39] None
 Bolivia Boliviana de Aviación State-owned[40]
 Bosnia and Herzegovina B&H Airlines[41] Majority (50.93%) 99.93% prior to 2008
 Botswana Air Botswana State-owned
 Brunei Royal Brunei Airlines[42] State-owned[42]
 Bulgaria Bulgaria Air[43] Majority (59.58%)
 Burkina Faso Air Burkina
 Burundi Air Burundi State-owned
 Cambodia Cambodia Angkor Air[44] Majority (51%)[45]
 Cameroon Camair-Co[46]
 Canada Air Canada None State-owned until 1989[47]
 Cape Verde TACV[48]
 Cayman Islands Cayman Airways State-owned (100%)[49]
 Chad Toumaï Air Tchad
 Chile LAN Airlines[50] None
 China Air China[51] Majority (51.8%)[52] State-owned until 2004, and indirectly control through parent company till now[53]
 Colombia Avianca[54] None
 Costa Rica Lacsa State-owned Owned by Taca[contradiction]
 Croatia Croatia Airlines[55] Majority (98%)[56]
 Cuba Cubana de Aviación[57]
 Cyprus Cyprus Airways[58] Majority (70%)[58]
 Czech Republic Czech Airlines[59] Majority (56%)[59]
 Denmark Scandinavian Airlines[60] Joint-Venture[nb 1]  
 Djibouti Djibouti Air Joint venture
 Ecuador TAME[62] State-owned[63]
 Egypt EgyptAir
 Equatorial Guinea Ecuato Guineana
 Eritrea Eritrean Airlines State-owned
 Estonia Estonian Air State-owned[64]
 Ethiopia Ethiopian Airlines[65] State-owned
 Fiji Fiji Airways[66] Majority (51%)[67]
 Faroe Islands Atlantic Airways[68]
 Finland Finnair[69] 55.8[70]
 France Air France[71] Minority (~20%)
 French Polynesia Air Tahiti Nui[72] Majority[73]
 Georgia Georgian Airways None
 Germany Lufthansa[74] None State-owned until 1994;[75] remaining government shares were sold in 1997[76]
 Guyana Caribbean Airlines[77] None
 Greenland Air Greenland[78] Joint venture
 Haiti Tortug' Air
 Hong Kong Cathay Pacific Cross Holding with Air China (29.9%)[79]Template:Additional citation needed
Dragonair Holding by Cathay Pacific in 100%
 Iceland Icelandair[80]
 India Air India[81] State-owned[82]
 Indonesia Garuda Indonesia[83] Majority
 Ireland Aer Lingus[84] Minority (25%)[85]
 Iran Iran Air 100% state-owned [86]
 Iraq Iraqi Airways[87]
 Israel El Al[88] Minority State-owned until June 2004
 Italy Alitalia[89] State-owned until 2008
 Ivory Coast Air Côte d'Ivoire[90] Minority (49%)
 Jamaica Air Jamaica
 Japan Japan Airlines[91] None State-owned until 1987
 Jordan Royal Jordanian[92]
 Kazakhstan Air Astana[93] Majority (51%)[94]
 Kenya Kenya Airways[95] Minority (29.8%)[96]
 Kiribati Air Kiribati
 Kuwait Kuwait Airways[97] State-owned[98]
 Laos Lao Airlines[99] State-owned[99]
 Libya Afriqiyah Airways[100] State-owned[101]
Libyan Airlines[102] State-owned[102]
 Latvia Air Baltic Majority (99.8%)[103]
 Lebanon Middle East Airlines[104]
 Luxembourg Luxair[105] Minority (49.96%)
 Macau Air Macau[106] Minority (5%)
 Madagascar Air Madagascar[107] Majority
 Malawi Air Malawi State-owned
 Malaysia Malaysia Airlines[108]
 Maldives Maldivian
 Malta Air Malta[109] Majority[110]
 Mauritania Mauritania Airlines International
 Mauritius Air Mauritius[111]  
 Mexico Aeroméxico None State-owned until 2007
 Moldova Air Moldova
 Mongolia MIAT Mongolian Airlines[112] State-owned[113]
 Montenegro Montenegro Airlines[114]
 Morocco Royal Air Maroc[115] State-owned
 Mozambique LAM Mozambique Airlines[116] State-owned
 Burma Myanma Airways[117] State-owned
 Namibia Air Namibia[118] State-owned (100%)[119]
 Nauru Our Airline[120] State-owned[120]
   Nepal Nepal Airlines[121] State-owned
 Netherlands KLM[71]
 New Zealand Air New Zealand[122] Majority (73.13%)[123] State-owned until 1989, partially re-nationalized in 2001
 North Korea Air Koryo State-owned[124]
 Oman Oman Air[125] Majority[126]
 Pakistan Pakistan International Airlines[36] Majority (90.2%)[127]
 Panama Copa Airlines None
 Papua New Guinea Air Niugini
 Philippines Philippine Airlines[128]
 Poland LOT Polish Airlines[129] Majority (93%)[130]
 Portugal TAP Portugal[131] Full[132]
 Qatar Qatar Airways State-owned
 Réunion Air Austral[133]
 Romania TAROM Majority (95%) [134]
 Russia Aeroflot[135] Majority (51%)
 Rwanda RwandAir[136]
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines SVG Air
 Samoa Virgin Samoa[137] Joint-venture, minority (49%)[138]
 São Tomé and Príncipe STP Airways None
 Saudi Arabia Saudia[139] Majority
 Serbia Air Serbia[140] Majority (51%)[141]Template:Acn
 Seychelles Air Seychelles[142] None
 Solomon Islands Solomon Airlines State-owned (100%)[143]
 Sierra Leone Arik Air None
 Singapore Singapore Airlines[144] 54.5% through Temasek Holdings[145]
 Slovenia Adria Airways[146] Majority (70%)[114]  
 South Africa South African Airways[147] State-owned[148]
 South Korea Korean Air[149] None[150]
Template:SSD Southern Star Airlines
 Spain Iberia[151] Minority (5%)[152]
 Sri Lanka SriLankan Airlines[36] State-owned[153]
 Sudan Sudan Airways State-owned[154]
 Suriname Surinam Airways[155] State-owned[156]
 Swaziland Swaziland Airlink Joint venture
  Switzerland Swiss International Air Lines[157]
 Taiwan China Airlines[158] None State-owned until 1991. 51.28% held by non-profit Civic Aviation Development Foundation.[159]
 Tajikistan Tajik Air State-owned
 Tanzania Air Tanzania State-owned
 Thailand Thai Airways International[160] Majority (51%)
 Trinidad and Tobago Caribbean Airlines[161] Majority (84%)[162]
 Tunisia Tunisair[163] Majority[163]
 Turkey Turkish Airlines[41] Minority (49%)
 Turkmenistan Turkmenistan Airlines State-owned
 Uganda Air Uganda None
 Ukraine Ukraine International Airlines[164]  
 United Arab Emirates Etihad Airways[165] State-owned[165]
Emirates[166] State-owned
 United Kingdom British Airways[167] None Privatised in 1987[168]
 Uzbekistan Uzbekistan Airways Majority
 Venezuela Conviasa State-owned
 Vietnam Vietnam Airlines[169] Majority (80%) [170]
 Vanuatu Air Vanuatu[171]
 Yemen Yemenia[172] Majority
 Zimbabwe Air Zimbabwe[173] State-owned[174]

Notes and references

Transport portal



External links

  • International Air Transport Association
  • US Maritime Administration

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