The Bujumbura International Airport id the only international one in the country and the only airport with a concrete runway (measuring 3,600 meters)

The small African nation of Burundi has thrown its hat into the aviation game with the news that it will be launching a new national carrier called Burundi Airlines. But creating a new airline from scratch, especially in a country where resources are scarce, is no easy task.

For those who don’t know, Burundi is located between Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. These larger neighbours’ have developed aviation industries and robust domestic economies. But it would be foolish to dismiss this smaller country, and its aviation ambition, as one of a providential agro-nation.

In this article, we will discuss the former and new national carriers of the country, and how this will impact aviation in the nation.

The first national carrier: Air Burundi

Founded in 1971, Air Burundi was a government-operated airline that focused on regional routes to Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda with its main base at Bujumbura International Airport. It had a different mix of aircraft over the years, from a Sud Aviation Caravelle to a Twin Otter DHC-6 to a Xian MA60.

However, in 2009, operations ceased due to technical and financial problems. Essentially its sole aircraft at the time, a 19-seater Beechcraft 1900C, had reached its maximum allowed flight hours without a major servicing. This maintenance check would cost the airline (and the country), one million dollars in the US and would be done in South Africa. Unable to make payments or find an alternative way to pay for the aircraft, the airline was effectively grounded. It did receive a new Chinese Xian MA60 years later, but the costs to resume services (even with this aircraft) had increased to $4 million US.

Since then, the airline has not operated and the citizens of Burundi have had to rely on other airlines to fly internationally.

The new national carrier: Burundi Airlines

Back on the 2nd of February, 2021, the Burundi government announced plans to launch a new national carrier called Burundi Airlines. So far few details (apart from the airline’s slogan) have been revealed (“Flying To Bridge Africa With The World”), but it is expected to go the same routes as nearby Uganda Airlines: a small fleet of regional aircraft like turboprops and a few jetliners, to allow for international flights (especially considering the slogan above says Africa to the world, not Burundi to neighbours). No date for the start of services has been announced yet.

“We can not say that the flight is for next week,” said Ms. Ndabaneze, the nation’s Minister of Trade, Transport, Industry, and TourismThe operation process will take a lot of resources of time and money”.

To create this new venture, the government will be merging the Burundian Airport Management Company (SOBUGEA) and the remains of its previous national carrier, Air Burundi. The majority of the shares will be held by the government.

The above tweet of the event reads “This [news] comes in the straight line of the government of Burundi who, since 2005, undertook reforms to restore the level of the deposit sectors and strengthen the capacities of public institutions in the transport sector”. 

The nation has not yet discussed how it would pay for this carrier, the aircraft, the staff, or more, but has not ruled out finding a suitable private partner (perhaps an international airline) to provide the right expertise. It is initially valued at $8.2 million US, which is large for the nation but, on the world stage, a bargain offer.

But what airport will the new national carrier fly to?

The Hub Airport: Bujumbura International Airport

Covered as only a minor footnote in our ‘Airports of Central Africa’ article, this airport is the only international one in the country and the only airport with a concrete runway (measuring 3,600 meters). It averages around 160,000 passengers per year, with services by Air Tanzania, Brussels Airways, Ethiopian among others.

The airport is operated by SOBUGEA and will be merged into the same entity that is the new airline. Because the airline will also be part of the airport authority, this will mean that it will face much lower landing fees, discounts, and even commercial advantages over its rivals. However, to boost airline services, it is unlikely that the government would allow its new home carrier inherent advantages (it would not want to price out major international carriers).

With news that Burundi will soon have their own airline, this will mean that the national airport will become much more connected to the world stage. One of the issues with African nations like Burundi is that without their own airline they cannot connect to major hubs like Dubai. Citizens or others wishing to fly to international destinations need to fly to other hubs, like Addis Ababa.

For Eways Aviation, this news essentially represents the launch of not only a new carrier but a whole new aviation market. One that we are excited to watch and can’t wait to see evolve into the one that the citizens of Burundi deserve.