Mali is the eighth-largest country in Africa, with a population just shy of twenty million people, rivaling many European countries. Yet, its impact on aviation, especially in Africa, doesn’t match its ambitions. What is the aviation landscape like in Mali, and what lessons can we learn about their market environment?
First, we need to understand Mali’s complex geopolitical situation and its place on the world stage. While it is physically located in the heart of West Africa (like Senegal and Gambia), it can’t rightly take advantage of these links between population centers and flights to Europe. This is because of recent conflicts in the country (as recent as 2012 and a coup in August this year), which have led to market turbulence, a loss of infrastructure, and displaced people. However, hope is returning, and several start-up airlines are reforming to take advantage of the, on paper, remarkable market conditions. Although funding remains a challenge for starting new airlines and upgrading airports, many foreign investors are wary even to consider involvement.
“Mali has a strong geostrategic location, which allows the issuance of aeronautical services to the whole sub-region. The country’s socio-political situation generates a very high level of security in its airports to develop new activities such as base maintenance activity or FBO.” – Excerpt from a 2017 interview with the CEO of the Malian Airport Assistance Company (ASAM-SA) Dominique Dreuil.
Who are the airlines of Mali?
There are currently only four active airlines in Mali according to the Ch-Aviation database; they are:
- Sky Mali – Scheduled Carrier, the only domestic airline in the country operating commercial routes. This airline deserves its own article and will be featured on Eways Aviation shortly.
- Afrikayes Air – A virtual carrier. It does not yet have an AOC, but in the meantime operates flights with a chartered E195 from Air Burkina (Burkina Faso) for flights between Bamako and Kayes.
- Sahel Aviation Service – Passenger charter airline. It has a fleet of two leased Embraer E145.
- Republique du Mali – Government airline for official business. They operate a Boeing 727 and a Boeing 737BBJ configured for exclusive VIP transport.
Mali is also riddled with many defunct carriers that have carried the flag, such as:
- Air Mali (1960–89) – The long-serving national carrier was shut down after an aircraft crash and heavy debts.
- Air Mali (2005-12) – A restart of the national carrier, operations seemed to be going well until the country’s 2012 northern conflict shut down operations. When the civil war finished, the airline didn’t resume, and all employees were let go. To this day it is still incorporated but does not operate (nor seems to be making any effort to do so)
- Douniah Airlines – An aborted launch attempt for this start-up left many disappointed, as it promised a west African network linked by several ATR-72 aircraft.
- Mali Airways and Mali Air Transport – A charter airline that operated for the government but then went bankrupt.
- Imperial Airways – A startup that sent its only MD-83 to Venezuela late last year. Since then, it has had no aircraft to fly.
- SAM Intercontinental – A charter airline that went bankrupt last year.
What are the airports?
There are several airports of note in the country. Five are rated for international services (Bamako-Senou, Kayes Dag Dag, Mopti Ambodedjo, Sikasso Dignagan, Timbuktu, Gao), and three are only for domestic national services (Nioro, Yelimane, and Goundam). However, only Bamako-Senou and Kayes Dag Dag currently have international flights and regularly scheduled services. Further airports might start to see new services with Sky Mali planning a far-reaching domestic route network, but that will be covered in another article.
Bamako-Senou, known as Modibo Keita International Airport (BKO), is the only international airport in the country with a paved 2,700-meter long runway. In 2007, US$181 million was spent upgrading the facility with efforts halting in 2012 during the civil war, only four months before it was due to be finished. Like other airports in the country, it is managed by Aéroports du Mali, a government firm that handles the airfields’ operation and organization. These other airports don’t see many airlines at all due to the ongoing conflicts in the north of the country and the current political destabilization that occurred only a month ago in the capital.
Hope for the future
Until the country returns to a new normal with free elections, the ejection of the Islamic insurgency, and including the implementation of a Coronavirus vaccine, it is unlikely that aviation will truly blossom. However, some airlines like Sky Mali are attempting to jumpstart the industry and return the swansong of aviation back to the country. And for that mission it needs all the help it can get.