I am a major fan not only of Chinese airlines but also obscure airlines so an obscure Chinese airline is surely too good to pass up, especially when it has been represented in 400 scale twice by, that other lover of obscure airliners, Aeroclassics. Air Great Wall was one of many small airlines that appeared after the decentralisation of the Chinese air carrier market, but although some smaller carriers would grow into majors many others were swallowed up by the big three.
By 1991 the previously omnipresent CAAC had been broken up as an airline into 6 largely regional carriers, with the Beijing regional Bureau, now known as Air China, being the primary international airline. Other airlines had also been formed, such as Xiamen and Shanghai Airlines, but the big six of the time accounted for well over 75% of the marketshare, which was at the time miniscule in comparison with today.
The Chinese state was also open to further airlines being created, primarily in the form of joint ventures between the big six and local governments. By 1994 they were even allowing private enterprises and foreign investors to get in on the act. By 1995 over forty airlines existed in China.
Initial equipment for Air Great Wall was a pair of almost new 1992 build Tupolev Tu-154Ms. It is a little unclear when operations began but the Tu-154s were delivered in November 1992, so presumably it was soon after then. Air Great Wall was not the only Chinese airline receiving new Tupolevs at the time as Sichuan Airlines also acquired four to begin jet operations from January 1992. Although obsolete the Tu-154s were cheap and could be acquired for barter with Russia.
Air Great Wall was based at Chongqing-Jiangbei Airport, in Central West China, and operated to Beijing, Guangzhou, Haikou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Wenzhou. The Tu-154s didn't operate on these services for long though as both aircraft were withdrawn in April 1995. Oddly the Tu-154s then spent nearly a decade in open storage at Chongqing before being finally repossessed by Aeroflot around 2003/2004. Considering the condition they appeared in by 2002 it is a testament to the Tu-154s solid build and reliability that both airframes saw further service. They joined the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs and one of them, now registered as RF-85735, was still active in September 2020.
Replacing the Tu-154s were a trio of Boeing 737-200s - the last three in service with Air China. All were 1985 build series 2T4s - the Boeing Customer code suggesting that they were originally bound for Air Florida.
The Air Great Wall story goes rather quiet here and I can't find a lot more information. Certainly the large number of small airlines was something that came to be seen as a problem by the CAAC as it caused safety issues and damaged profitability. The result was that the CAAC began to look at market consolidation and actively favoured the three biggest airlines. In April 2001 CAAC released its plans for further consolidation of the market which would see the creation of three major airline groupings around Air China, China Eastern and China Southern.
The end result of this was the swallowing up of eight airlines by what became the big three and one of those swallowed was Air Great Wall. The acquisition of the airline was completed in June 2001 by China Eastern Airlines. Interestingly by this time Air Great Wall had given up its Chongqing base and was operating from the Southeastern coastal city of Ningbo. Ningbo is the southernmost part of the monster conurbation that also includes Shanghai and Hangzhou. It is also not far off 600km away from Chongqing.
It seems that at some point Air Great Wall's focus was completely altered to serving the Southeastern region of China. Its acquisition by China Eastern allowed the creation of a new Ningbo branch for the airline. None of the equipment from Air Great Wall survived into the merged fleet for very long. All three of the 737s were sold to Janco Aircraft & Engines between May 2002 and October 2003. One was converted, from August 2004, to a freighter for Blue Dart Aviation of India, becoming VT-BDI, and the other pair were exported to Sudan for an outfit with the dubious name of Air West Company.
Below: The ex B-2506 became VT-BDI with Blue Dart from late 2004 until September 2013.
That is all I have been able to discover about Air Great Wall despite its odd beginnings and rather grand name. It certainly was one of the smaller airlines and unusually showed almost no growth throughout its history, perhaps due to its links with the Flying College?
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: