Civil Aviation Administration of China investigates Airlines

By Sven-Michael Werner, Leo Fattorini, Serena Du, Sarah Wang


Following revisions to the PRC Advertisement Law in 2015 and to the Internet Advertising Measures in 2016, Government scrutiny of foreign businesses' advertising form and content in China has recently increased.

Recent regulatory changes covering what is or is not permissible in advertising within China appear to have gone largely unnoticed by mainly international companies, who have failed to update their internal guidelines and practices.

Chinese regulators have targeted multinational and medium-sized consumer-focused enterprises, raising accusations of non-compliance and demanding apologies. Recent examples include international hotel chains and airlines which appear to have referred to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and Tibet as "countries" on their websites, rather than "regions" of China. The CAAC has demanded an "immediate and public apology" from a US airline in this regard. The aviation authorities have requested all foreign airlines which fly to China to review their websites and related marketing and communication tools to ensure strict compliance with Chinese laws and regulations. Possibly worse than the regulatory headache of the investigation is the negative PR it has generated.

In comparison with many foreign consumer-facing businesses, which have substantial operations in China supported by local compliance teams, foreign airlines often approach local markets via online marketing from their headquarters. It is important that airlines review their consumer communication and marketing policies and consider:

  • What content is considered as an "advertisement"?
  • What content is considered as "internet advertising"?
  • How should your advertising be presented and what messages are permissible?
  • What should you do if under investigation?

Our Bird & Bird teams in Shanghai and Beijing advise multinational consumer brands operating in China on their marketing and advertisement strategies and would be happy to share some initial guidance with you.