China Aviation Law

The Rise and Fall of Civil Aviation in the Republic of China

In 1937, one of the first airlines in China - Eurasia Airlines (欧亚航空公司) - started to recruit flight attendants for the first time.



Suitable applicants had to meet the following conditions: aged between 20-25 years of age, proper demeanor/appearance, height 1.5 m -1.7 m, weight 40-59 kg, speak Mandarin, Cantonese, English,  and read and write in English and Chinese. Because of the conditions, in January 1938, only six qualified. Over the next ten years, the number of stewardesses surged to an overwhelming level of more than 20 people.


These stewardesses were part of Eurasia airlines which started in February 1931 as a joint venture between the Nationalist Government and Lufthansa Airlines. It operated routes served by China Eastern today -- Shanghai - Lanzhou - Dihua (modern Urumqi), Peking - Guangzhou, Lanzhou - Baotou and Xi'an - Kunming and other routes.

After the start of the Second World War, the Germany forfeited its shares in the airline and in March 1943 Eurasia Airlines reorganized as the Central Air Transport Corporation (CATC - 中央航空运输公司). In 1949, CATC totaled of nearly 3,000 employees, 26 domestic and international routes and 44 aircraft.

Sian. [Eurasia Aviation Corporation.] Our magic carpet

"Two Airline Incident"

By the end of World War II, there were three major airlines in the Republic of China - CATC, China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC - 中国航空公司), and the Civil Air Transport Inc. (民航空运公司). During the latter part of the Chinese civil war, Government of the Republic of China began to  retreat to Taiwan. Civil Air Transportation was the first airline to rebase its fleet to Taiwan and continued operating out of Songshan Airport into the 1970's.

In 1948, CATC and CNAC began ferrying dozens of aircraft successively to Hong Kong. However, after the Central People's Government of China proclaimed itself the Chinese Government on October 1, 1949, the two company's general manager's - Liu Jingyi and Chen Zhuo Lin - decided that defection to communist China was a better path than retreat to Taiwan.


On the morning of November 9, 1949, they flew 12 aircraft (a CV-240, three C-46, and eight C-47) into the mainland area controlled by the Communist Party of China. Eleven aircraft flew to Tianjin. The remaining aircraft flew to Beijing where the managers were greeted by Communist Party officials and generals.

Following the two airline incident, the mangers dispatched communications to the remaining employees Hong Kong and overseas offices to join them back in China. In all, a total of 2,000 employees and 80 aircraft defected to the mainland. The managers and their defecting staff later served to form the backbone of the Civil Aviation Administration of China and the first state airline CAAC (中国民航).

Civil Air Transport Inc v. Central Air Transport Corp
[1952] 2 All Eng L. R. 733

In an effort to save the remaining CATC aircraft based in Hong Kong from the Communists, the Nationalist government sold the remaining aircraft to two Americans with the provision that the aircraft were not to be used for the transportation to or from Communist China.

This sale was followed by an action to quiet title in the local Hong Kong court. The action made its way to the Supreme Court of Hong Kong who ruled that because the British Government recognized the Communist Government as the Government of China the transaction was invalid.

However, upon appeal to the the privy counsel in Britain, the Court found the transaction valid as it occurred a few months before Britain officially recognized the Communist Government. The remaining aircraft were immediately transferred to an American Aircraft Carrier and shipped back the United States.

The only company that still survives of the big three is CNAC which remains incorporated in Hong Kong as subsidiary of Civil Aviation Administration of China and possesses a majority of Air China and Air Macau.



The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Apr., 1953), pp. 328-331



Pacific Northwest Aviation and Insurance Law Conference

Dinner at Conference

I just returned from one of my favorite conferences of the year - the Pacific Northwest Aviation and Insurance Law Conference.  During my second year of law school, I joined the King County Bar Association Aviation Section. It is populated by nice small group of lawyers across the northwest and every year we have a conference.

This year the conference was in Vancouver, BC, and I was one of the presenters.

Despite the constant rain, the conference was great. I met a number of interesting attorneys and heard from some great presenters.

One who stood out was a consultant who talked about the legal and logistical challenges in large scale and remote construction projects. His presentation tracked the development of a mountain road to a mining project in the wilderness of British Columbia. Some of the challenges included importing a MI-26 helicopter from Russia  and coordinating the thousands of flight hours require to shuttle men and equipment.

I presented on the recent developments in Aviation Case Law over the last year. I will be posting the whole of my presentation on a later post.

I tried to appeal to the broad range of attendees to the conference and had cases from transactions, accidents, certification, and regulation practice areas.

After the conference, we had an afternoon to see the sites in Vancouver. We enjoyed a run through Stanley park and headed down to Gastown to check out the Steam Clock and other local tourist attractions.



Strange Phenomena and Chinese Passenger Protests

A brief post to highlight a strange phenomena.

"It has become a strange phenomenon in China that passengers tend to protest in irrational ways over flight delays or cancellation so the airlines can compensate them more in the end," said Zhang Qihuai, a lawyer from the Lanpeng Law Firm who handles civil aviation cases.

For the 3rd time in 4 months, Chinese passengers stormed the tarmac of an airport to protest long delays. 

More than 20 angry passengers took their protest onto an airport taxiway to demand compensation for their flight being canceled for bad weather in Kunming in southwest China's Yunnan Province yesterday. The protest caused a series of flight delays between Shanghai and Kunming.


I've racked my brain trying to think of what would happen if a group of disgruntled passengers stormed the tarmac in LaGuardia. It would not turn out good.

In my travels in China, I have found that most of the traveling Chinese don't care about the rules that promulgated by the airlines. They'll cut in line, use electronics throughout the flight, and before we even get to the gate there half the passengers will be rushing to the front of the plane and pulling out luggage.

Some of these instances I'll attribute to the fact that those who can afford to travel by air in China are very wealthy. Others, like the example of the Chinese military official who assaulted on a flight attendant, are very connected.

Either way, the Chinese have chosen a very strange way to protest, but if it gets the airlines to fork over more money more power to them.

"It has become a strange phenomenon in China that passengers tend to protest in irrational ways over flight delays or cancellation so the airlines can compensate them more in the end," said Zhang Qihuai, a lawyer from the Lanpeng Law Firm who handles civil aviation cases.


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Asian Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition


Always nice to see aviation conferences in China. Last week brought us the Asian Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition in all its splendor.

I find it ironic how the news coverage and "industry insiders" fawn over themselves about how quickly the business aviation market is growing in China.  Yet, with the same breath, make a statement like this:

"The number of registered business jets last year on the mainland was 132, less than 1 percent of that in the United States."


Sorry, but that is no market. There was an addition of 20 planes in the last year to the Chinese registry. Despite the predictions, there is no growth. Why?

It is no doubt a complicated answer, but one of the biggest hurdles to the development of private aviation in China is that fact this is Communist China. The airspace is run by the military, the airports have limited facilities for private jets, and most importantly there is no general aviation airspace (aside from a few test areas.)

In this environment, there is little incentive to fire up your private jet, especially when airspace closures and pre-authorization of flight plans limit your ability to travel.

As the Wall Street Journal put it last week:

But for all the dizzying projections, there are also more practical problems. China's military retains significant control over the country's airspace, and it's commercial, not private, aviation that is the development priority. Approval times for private flights are still often measured in days rather than hours—so much for the convenience of having your own jet—and in the few places where a program to open up low altitudes to general aviation has been implemented, pilots can do little more than circle the airports from which they take off.



Hong Kong Airport Needs a New Name – Sun Yat-Sen International Airport!


I think Hong Kong has one of the best airports in the world. It has everything a great airport needs. It is huge, but connected to public transportation. It clean and beauftiful with great views of the runways. Most important, it has the hallmark of civilized society free wifi.

Indeed, I think you can judge a lot about a city by the existence of free wifi at the airport. I'll check off the recent airports I've been to in the last few months. You decide the better cities. :-)

Free Wifi: Seattle, Portland, Montreal, Denver
Paid Wifi: Newark, Los Angeles, Dallas, Cleveland

But back to Hong Kong, every time I fly into Hong Kong there are two questions I've wondered about:

1. Why is it on the other side of the island from the city?

2. What is up with the funny name? Chek Lap Kok Airport

It turns out that the answer to the first question is a result of history and bigger aircraft. The current airport is not the first airport in Hong Kong. Originally, the international airport was located right in the middle of the city - Kai Tak Airport.

It prime location in the city lead to some amazing approaches and landings into the airport. Once famous "checkerboard" approach skimmed over the local apartments to touch down on the airport's one runway. Imagine having a 747 fly at eye level past your apartment every few minutes. Pretty intense stuff.

Here is an amazing video of that approach:

A victim of its one runway and limited length the local government decided to relocate the airport out to an area that would allow for smooth approaches and more runaways. This new location on Chek Lap Kok island and the sight of the current Hong Kong Airport.

2. So why couldn't they come up with a better name than the unpronoucable Chek Lap Kok?

It turns out I'm not the only person who has thought this was poor choice for such an awesome airport. Recently, there have been rumblings to rename the airport to something that touches on both China, Aviation, and relative Freedom that is Hong Kong - Sun Yat Sen.

The city’s aviation gateway is also known as Chek Lap Kok, named after an island flattened and extended to make way for the current airport to be built in the ’90s.

“Not just the father of the nation, you could say he [Sun] was also the father of aviation in China,” said Gordon Andreassand, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Historical Aviation Society.

Mr Andreassand’s speech at the inauguration of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology‘s aeronautic-interest group sparked interest among student population that a petition to rename Hong Kong International Airport after the revolutionary leader.

With Sun Yat-sen’s experience in the aviation industry – he was credited as the first person to build an aeroplane in China in 1923 – he deserved to have an airport named after him more than many others. Hong Kong is an appropriate location, advocates say, noting that his mother was buried in the city and in 1923 he credits the University of Hong Kong as his intellectual birthplace.

But this airport name change request could face a number of obstacles. For one, it’s notable in mainland China that no big airports are named after famous people in history. Thus, Beijing, which has sovereignty over Hong Kong, might object to the name-change plan.

If an airport has a pretty good record in service or facilities, then it brings even more honor to the figure it’s named after. But what about Charles de Gaulle in Paris and Manila’s Ninoy Aquino airport, named after the father of the current Philippine president, get bad reputation as among the worst airports in the world? For Hong Kong, it’s on the other side of the yardstick, receiving awards and recognitions for years. The risk of potential PR nightmare is not that high.

But for Airport Authority, which says it has no plan to change Chek Lap Kok name at the moment, even the centenary of a historical event may not be enough to persuade it to rename the airport.


Personally, I'm behind this 100%. Unfortunately, I doubt it'll ever happen. Sun Yat Sen connected to an era of freedom and revolution with which the Communist Government retains a strange relationship. In this 100th anniversary year of the Republic of China, one can hope.

First Chinese Pilot to Join the Aero Club of Hong Kong

Merry Christmas Everyone!


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