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Flag carrier facts for kids

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Emirates B777-300ER (A6-ECU) @ FCO, July 2011
A Boeing 777-300ER of Dubai-based Emirates, one of the two flag carriers of the United Arab Emirates

A flag carrier is a transport company, such as an airline or shipping company, that, being locally registered in a given sovereign state, enjoys preferential rights or privileges accorded by the government for international operations.

Historically, the term was used to refer to airlines owned by the government of their home country and associated with the national identity of that country. Such an airline may also be known as a national airline or a national carrier, although this can have different legal meanings in some countries. Today, it is any international airline with a strong connection to its home country or that represents its home country internationally, regardless of whether it is government-owned.

Flag carriers may also be known as such due to laws requiring aircraft or ships to display the state flag of the country of their registry. For example, under the law of the United States, a U.S. flag air carrier is any airline that holds a certificate under Section 401 of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 (i.e., any U.S.-based airline operating internationally), and any ship registered in the United States is known as a U.S. flag vessel.


4X-ACA - Ekron Air Base ca 27-09-1948
A Douglas DC-4 owned and operated by El Al - the flag carrier of Israel - in 1948

The term "flag carrier" is a legacy of the early days of commercial aviation when governments often took the lead by establishing state-owned airlines because of the high capital costs of running them. 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, but were considered to be flag carriers as they were the "main national airline" and often a sign of their country's presence abroad.

The heavily regulated aviation industry also meant aviation rights are often negotiated between governments, denying airlines access 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 or Lebanon's Middle East Airlines for nationalist reasons or to aid the country's economy, particularly in the area of tourism.

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. 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.

Near the end of the 20th century, many of these airlines have been corporatized as a public company or a state-owned enterprise, while others have been completely privatized. The aviation industry has also been gradually deregulated and liberalized, permitting greater freedoms of the air particularly in the United States and in the European Union with the signing of the Open Skies agreement. 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".

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 or Region Airline Details of current state ownership Details of former state ownership
 Afghanistan Ariana Afghan Airlines State-owned
 Albania Air Albania Minority state-owned by Albcontrol(10%)
 Algeria Air Algérie State-owned
 Angola TAAG Angola Airlines Majority
 Argentina Aerolíneas Argentinas State-owned
 Armenia Fly Arna
 Aruba Aruba Airlines None
 Australia Qantas None State-owned until 1992.
 Austria Austrian Airlines None – owned by Lufthansa State-owned until 5 December 2008.
 Azerbaijan Azerbaijan Airlines
 Bahamas Bahamasair State-owned
 Bahrain Gulf Air State-owned
 Bangladesh Biman Bangladesh Airlines Public limited company State-owned until 23 July 2007.
 Belarus Belavia State-owned
 Belgium Brussels Airlines None – owned by Lufthansa State-owned in its original incarnation (SN Brussels Airlines)
 Bhutan Druk Air None
 Bolivia Boliviana de Aviación State-owned
 Botswana Air Botswana State-owned
 Brunei Royal Brunei Airlines State-owned
 Bulgaria Bulgaria Air Minority state-owned (0.01%)
 Burkina Faso Air Burkina State-owned
 Cambodia Cambodia Angkor Air Majority (51%)
 Cameroon Camair-Co State-owned
 Canada Air Canada Minority state-owned by the Government of Canada (Estimated 6.4%) State-owned until privatization in 1989.
 Cape Verde TACV
 Cayman Islands Cayman Airways State-owned
 Chile LATAM Chile None State-owned until September 1989.
 China Air China Majority (51.7%): 40.98% through CNAHC and 10.72% through CNACG State-owned until 2004.
 Colombia Avianca None
 Costa Rica Avianca Costa Rica
 Croatia Croatia Airlines Majority (98%)
 Cuba Cubana de Aviación State-owned
 Cyprus Cyprus Airways None - 40% owned by Malta-based SJC Group
 Czech Republic Czech Airlines None
 DR Congo Congo Airways State-owned
 Denmark Scandinavian Airlines Joint venture  
 Djibouti Air Djibouti Joint venture
 Dominican Republic Arajet None
 Egypt Egyptair State-owned
 Equatorial Guinea CEIBA Intercontinental State-owned
 Eritrea Eritrean Airlines State-owned
 Swaziland Eswatini Air
 Ethiopia Ethiopian Airlines State-owned
Flag of the Faroe Islands.svg Atlantic Airways
 Fiji Fiji Airways Majority (51%)
 Finland Finnair Majority (55.8%)
 France Air France Minority (18% share)
 French Polynesia Air Tahiti Nui Majority
 Georgia Georgian Airways None
 Germany Lufthansa None State-owned until 1994; remaining government shares were sold in 1997.

Minority (20.05%) in the Lufthansa Group acquired in 2020 was sold in 2022.

 Greece Aegean Airlines
 Greenland Air Greenland
 Guernsey Aurigny State-owned
 Guyana Caribbean Airlines None
 Jamaica Minority (16%)
 Trinidad and Tobago Majority (84%)
 Hong Kong Cathay Pacific Minority (6.08% by Hong Kong Government) + 28.17% through Air China Limited
 Iceland Icelandair None - owned by Icelandair Group
 India Air India None - owned by Tata Group State-owned until November 2021
 Indonesia Garuda Indonesia Majority (60.536%) State-owned until February 2011.
 Iran Iran Air State-owned
 Iraq Iraqi Airways
 Ireland Aer Lingus None – owned by International Airlines Group State-owned until September 2006.
 Israel El Al Minority (~1.1%) State-owned until June 2004.
 Italy ITA Airways State-owned, succeeded Alitalia starting from 15 October 2021
 Côte d'Ivoire Air Côte d'Ivoire Minority (49%)
 Japan Japan Airlines None State-owned until 1987.
 Jordan Royal Jordanian
 Kazakhstan Air Astana Majority (51%)
 Kenya Kenya Airways Minority (29.8%)
 Kiribati Air Kiribati
 Kuwait Kuwait Airways State-owned
 Laos Lao Airlines State-owned
 Latvia airBaltic Majority (80.05%)
 Lebanon Middle East Airlines Majority (99%)
 Libya Afriqiyah Airways State-owned
Libyan Airlines State-owned
 Luxembourg Luxair Majority (73.86%)
 Macau Air Macau Minority (5%)
 Madagascar Madagascar Airlines Majority
 Malawi Malawi Airlines Majority (51%)
 Malaysia Malaysia Airlines State-owned through Khazanah Nasional
 Maldives Maldivian
 Malta KM Malta Airlines Majority
 Marshall Islands Air Marshall Islands
 Mauritania Mauritania Airlines State-owned
 Mauritius Air Mauritius  
Flag of Mexico.svg Mexico Aeroméxico None State-owned until 2007.
 Mongolia MIAT Mongolian Airlines State-owned
 Montenegro Air Montenegro State-owned
 Morocco Royal Air Maroc State-owned
 Mozambique LAM Mozambique Airlines State-owned
 Myanmar Myanmar National Airlines State-owned
 Nauru Nauru Airlines State-owned
 Nepal Nepal Airlines State-owned
 Netherlands KLM Minority (14%)
 New Caledonia Aircalin Majority (99%)
 New Zealand Air New Zealand Majority (53%) State-owned until 1989, partially re-nationalized in 2001.
 North Korea Air Koryo State-owned
 Oman Oman Air Majority
 Pakistan Pakistan International Airlines State-owned
 Panama Copa Airlines None
 Papua New Guinea Air Niugini
 Paraguay LATAM Paraguay
 Peru LATAM Perú
 Philippines Philippine Airlines
 Poland LOT Polish Airlines State-owned
 Portugal TAP Air Portugal Majority (72%)
 Qatar Qatar Airways State-owned
 Réunion Air Austral
 Romania TAROM Majority (97.22%)
 Russia Aeroflot Majority (51%)
 Rwanda RwandAir State-owned
 Samoa Samoa Airways State-owned
 São Tomé and Príncipe STP Airways None
 Saudi Arabia Saudia Majority
 Senegal Air Senegal
 Serbia Air Serbia Majority (51%)
 Seychelles Air Seychelles State-owned (100%)
 Solomon Islands Solomon Airlines State-owned
 Singapore Singapore Airlines Majority (54.5% through Temasek Holdings)
 South Africa South African Airways State-owned
 South Korea Korean Air None – owned by Hanjin State-owned until 1969.
 Spain Iberia None – owned by International Airlines Group
 Sri Lanka SriLankan Airlines State-owned
 Sudan Sudan Airways State-owned
 Suriname Surinam Airways State-owned
 Switzerland Swiss International Air Lines None – owned by Lufthansa
 Syria Syrian Air State-owned
 Taiwan China Airlines Majority State-owned until 1991. 51.28% held by non-profit Civic Aviation Development Foundation.
 Tajikistan Tajik Air State-owned
 Tanzania Air Tanzania State-owned
 Thailand Thai Airways International Minority (47.86%)
 Tunisia Tunisair Majority
 Turkey Turkish Airlines Minority (49%)
 Turkmenistan Turkmenistan Airlines State-owned
 Uganda Uganda Airlines
 Ukraine Ukraine International Airlines  
 United Arab Emirates Etihad Airways State-owned by the Government of Abu Dhabi
Emirates State-owned by the Government of Dubai through the Investment Corporation of Dubai.
 United Kingdom British Airways None – owned by International Airlines Group State-owned until 1987.
 Uzbekistan Uzbekistan Airways Majority
 Venezuela Conviasa
 Vietnam Vietnam Airlines Majority (86.2%)
 Vanuatu Air Vanuatu State-owned
 Yemen Yemenia Majority
 Zambia Zambia Airways
 Zimbabwe Air Zimbabwe State-owned

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Compañía de bandera para niños

  • List of charter airlines
  • List of low-cost airlines
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Flag carrier Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.