China Eastern Airlines has finalised its acquisition of Ningbo-based Great Wall Airlines as China's sweeping airline consolidation exercise continues.

Announced last year, it is the first merger to be completed among the carriers under direct "control and administration" of the regulatory Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

The CAAC has been calling for consolidation among the country's more than 30 airlines for years. In 2000 it ordered the 10 under its direct authority to combine into three groups.

Under the merger blueprint, provisionally finalised earlier this year, Beijing-based Air China will take over China Southwest Airlines and China National Aviation; China Eastern of Shanghai will acquire China Northwest Airlines, Great Wall and Yunnan Airlines; and Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines swallows China Northern Airlines and Xinjiang Airlines.

Analysts estimate the full merger exercise will take around 18 months to complete, starting with small carriers such as Great Wall, which has three Boeing 737-200s and a handful of Tupolev Tu-154s.

Mergers among second- and third-tier airlines have already begun. Hainan Airlines has acquired Changan Airlines and China Xinhua Airlines and is currently acquiring Shanxi Airlines.

Source: Flight International