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A flag carrier refers to a transportation company, such as an airline or shipping company, that is locally registered in a given country. They may be state-run, state-owned or state-designated companies or organisations with preferential rights or privileges accorded by the government. 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.

A flag carrier (if it is an airline) may also be known as a national airline or a national carrier, although this can have different legal meanings in some countries. The United Statesmarker is the only country in which the official flag carrier tradition is illegal, because of strict antitrust laws, but it has six major international airlines; American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines (now a subsidiary of Delta), United Airlines, Continental Airlines, and US Airways; they function in a similar manner and size as other countries' flag carriers.


The term "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 runningairlines. The heavily regulated aviation industry also meant aviation rights are often negotiated between governments, denying airlines the right to an open market. These bilateral aviation agreements may 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 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. In the United States, for example, funding for international travel is restricted to "US flag air carriers" under the Fly America Act, however, this coincidental terminology should not be confused with traditional flag carriers.

In recent decades, however, many of these airlines have since been corporatised as a public company or a state-owned enterprise, or completely privatised. The aviation industry has also been gradually deregulated, particularly in the United Statesmarker and in the European Union. This has rendered the designation of "flag carriers" less important than it was in the past.

The term is also used loosely to refer to any dominant airline in a country, or in reference to legacy state carriers even long after their privatisation.

List of flag-carrying airlines

The chart below lists airlines considered to be a "flag carrier", either by designation as a national airlines either officially or based on history and whether it is state-owned.
Country or Region Airline Designated State-owned
Ariana Afghan Airlines Yes Majority
Albanian Airlines Yes Joint-Venture
AeroKing Andorra Yes Joint-Venture between Eagle Aviation España and TAP Portugal
Air Algérie Yes Majority (By opening its capital)
TAAG Angola Airlines Yes Full
Air Åland
Aerolíneas Argentinas Yes Full
Armavia Yes No
Qantas Yes No
Austrian Airlines Yes No
Azerbaijan Airlines Yes Full
Bahamasair Yes Full
Gulf Air Yes Full
Biman Bangladesh Airlines Yes Full
Belavia Yes Full
Brussels Airlines Yes No
Maya Island Air No No
Benin Golf Air Yes No
Drukair Yes Full
AeroSur Yes Minority (48%)
B&H Airlines Yes 50.93%
Air Botswana Yes Full
TAM Airlines Yes No
Royal Brunei Airlines Yes Full
Bulgaria Air Yes No
Hemus Air Yes No
Air Burkina Yes Majority
Air Burundi Yes Full
Cambodia Angkor Air Yes Majority
Cameroon Airlines Yes
Air Canada Yes No (privatised in 1988)
TACV Cabo Verde Airlines Yes Full
Cayman Airways Yes
Toumaï Air Tchad
LAN Airlines No (privatized in 1989)
(mainland) Air China Yes Majority
Avianca Yes No
Air Comores International
Trans Air Congo
Hewa Bora Airways
Lacsa (now part of TACA)
Air Ivoire
Croatia Airlines Yes Majority
Cubana de Aviación Yes Full
Cyprus Airways Yes Majority
(Recognized only by Turkey) Cyprus Turkish Airlines
Czech Airlines Yes Full
Scandinavian Airlines System Yes Joint-Venture
Air Djibouti
EgyptAir Yes Full
Ecuato Guineana
Eritrean Airlines Yes Full
Estonian Air Yes Minority
Ethiopian Airlines Yes Full
Atlantic Airways
Air Pacific
Finnair Yes Majority
Air France No Minority
Air Guyane Yes
Air Tahiti Nui Yes
Gabon Airlines
Gambia International Airlines Yes
Georgian Airways Yes
Aurigny Air Services Yes Full
Lufthansamarker Yes No
Ghana International Airlines Yes
Olympic Air No No
Air Greenland Yes
Air Caraïbes
Continental Micronesia
Aviateca (now part of TACA) / Tikal Jets Airlines (now defunct)
Air Guinee Express Yes
Caribbean Airlines No
Tortug' Air
Cathay Pacific Yes No
Malév Yes No
Icelandair Yes No
Garuda Indonesia Yes Full
Air India Yes Full
Indian (Merged with Air India on July 15, 2007) Yes Full
Iran Air Yes Full
Iraqi Airways Yes Full
Aer Lingus Yes Minority (28%)
El Al Yes Minority (30%)
Alitalia Yes No (Privatised in 2009)
Air Jamaica Yes
Japan Airlines Yes No
Royal Jordanian Airlines Yes
Air Astana Yes 51%
Kenya Airways Yes
Air Kiribati Yes
Air Koryo Yes Full
Korean Air Yes No
Kuwait Airways Yes Full
Kyrgyzstan Airlines Yes Majority
Lao Airlines Yes Full
Air Baltic Yes Majority
Middle East Airlines Full
Air Liberia Yes
Libyan Arab Airlines Yes
Luxair Yes Minority
Air Macau Yes No
N/A - -
Air Madagascar Yes Majority
Air Malawi Yes Full
Malaysia Airlines Yes Minority
Maldivian Yes Full
Air Mali International Yes No
Air Malta Yes Majority
Air Marshall Islands Yes Full
Air Caraïbes Yes No
Mauritania Airways Minority
Air Mauritius Yes Minority
Mexicana Yes
Continental Micronesia
Air Moldova Yes
MIAT Mongolian Airlines Yes
Montenegro Airlines Yes
Air Montserrat
Royal Air Maroc Yes
Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique Yes
Myanmar Airways International Yes Yes
Air Namibia Yes
Our Airline Yes
Nepal Airlines Yes
KLM Yes No
Dutch Antilles Express
Air New Zealand Yes Majority
NICA (now part of TACA) Yes
Nigerian Eagle Airlines Yes No
Norfolk Air Full
Scandinavian Airlines System Yes Minority
Oman Air Yes Majority (82.4%)
Pakistan International Airlines Yes Majority (87%)
Palestinian Airlines Full
Copa Airlines Yes No
Air Niugini
Regional Paraguaya Yes No
Air Perú
Philippine Airlines Yes Joint-Venture
LOT Polish Airlines Yes Majority (67.97%)
TAP Portugal Yes Full
Qatar Airways Yes
Air Austral
TAROM Yes Majority (95%)
Rossiya Yes Full
Aeroflot Yes 51.17%
Rwandair Express Yes
Polynesian Blue
STP Airways
Saudi Arabian Airlines Yes Full
Air Sénégal International Yes
Jat Airways Yes Full
Air Seychelles Yes
Sierra National Airlines Yes
Singapore Airlines Yes Majority (54%)
Air Slovakia
Adria Airways
Solomon Airlines Yes
Somali Airlines Yes
South African Airways Yes
Iberia Yes Minority (50%)
SriLankan Airlines Yes
Sudan Airways Yes
Surinam Airways Yes
Scandinavian Airlines System Yes Joint-Venture
Royal Swazi National Airways
Swiss International Air Lines Yes No
Syrian Air Yes Full
(Taiwanmarker) China Airlines No Majority (54%)
Tajik Air Yes
Air Tanzania Yes
Thai Airways International Yes Majority (53%)
Air Togo Yes
Caribbean Airlines Yes Full
Tunisair Yes
Turkish Airlines Yes Majority
Turkmenistan Airlines Yes
Air Turks and Caicos Yes
Air Uganda Yes
Ukraine International Airlines Yes Majority
Aerosvit Airlines Yes
Etihad Airways Yes Yes
Emirates Yes Yes
Air Arabia Yes Minority (45%)
British Airways Yes No (Privatised in 1987)

PLUNA Yes Minority (25%)
Uzbekistan Airways Yes Majority
Air Vanuatu Yes
Conviasa Yes Full
Vietnam Airlines Yes Full
Yemenia Yes
Air Zimbabwe Yes


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