“Sky Mali, the soul of frequent travelers” – The tagline of the new carrier.

Sky Mali is one of the youngest airlines in Africa and poised to become the next great airline of Mali – taking over a flag carrier’s mantle in a country that has faced so many challenges. Where did this airline come from, how has it managed to thrive in such an unforgiving aviation landscape, and what can we expect next from Sky Mali?

Humble beginnings

Sky Mali was created by a Dubai investment firm, Wings Investments, which recognized an unfilled market gap in Africa – in the country of Mali. The country had been involved in some political instability that led to the failure of its previous national airline, Air Mali, back in 2012, leaving the local aviation space free of any private or public scheduled carriers.

While the bulk of the operation’s finances have come from a private fund, the airline has also received full support from the Mali Directorate of Finance and the Ministry of Transport, who floated a feasibility study to create a new national airline last year. So far, the airline has managed to secure a single Boeing 737-500 and operates the countries only scheduled service from Bamako – Kayes. If you have read the previous article on the market, you know it is a special feat indeed!

“After successfully passing the Bamako-Kayes test flight, the [Malian civil aviation agency ANAC] has issued us with an air operator’s certificate (AOC), authorizing us to perform commercial air transport operations,” Sky Mali said via Facebook on July 21, 2020. The service commenced regular operations in September this year.

From here, the airline has slowly rolled out additional domestic services linking together the four regional capitals, Gao (GAO); Kayes (KYS); Mopti (MZE), and, still planned, a link to distant Timbuktu (TOM), all from the capital of the country Bamako (BKO). The airline has attributed its success to its three core tenants: safety, security, and above all, quality in the service.

How have they been successful?

The new venture is led by engineer and entrepreneur Baba Haidara, who brings his experience working in aviation and knowledge of the local market as the formal director of Air Mali. The plan is for Sky Mali to become the country’s next flag carrier and one day be the defacto western African airline.

Sky Mali wants to benefit from Bamako’s geographical position. “Bamako is a natural hub at a 90mn flight distance of almost all the Western African capitals.” explained Mr. Haidara back in February.

 “All the airports in Mali must be served. But the regional dimension, Europe, the Middle East won’t be forgotten. We will accompany our fellow citizens on the pilgrimage,”   Mr. Haidara said when launching the airline back in July.

As mentioned, the venture is primarily funded by a middle-eastern investment firm that has deployed $31 million US towards the first operations. The airline has not ruled out local support for future expansion, be it private or from the Mali government, with a plan to eventually allow local Maliese to invest. Back in February 2020, Mr Haidarra already said that “the Malian government will participate in the project very soon”.

One of the shrewd ways the airline intends to be profitable right from the beginning by using a modern fleet of Boeing 737s. As opposed to older aircraft, the carrier can ensure better passenger comfort, fuel savings, and reliability quotas.

“It is a modern and judiciously calibrated fleet that makes it possible to offer better passenger comfort, to achieve significant fuel savings, and to meet its commitments.” Said the Sky Mali board chairman Mr. Lucien D’Almeida, who, with his 25 years at Air Afrique, will be a valuable support to Mr. Haidara. “This investment will very soon reach the level of other companies in the sub-region, i.e., 40 to 50 billion FCFA”. 

What happens next?

Once the current crisis comes to a close, the airline plans to roll out its planned expansion from just the country’s four other capital centers to two international destinations – Douala and Pointe Noire. With a strong regional network, the airline will expand its fleet with a 2nd Boeing 737 (be it another -500 or a more modern -800) and an EMB-145 regional jet, and two Chinese MA-60 twin-turboprop aircraft (with three more tentatively ordered).

The airline’s network will then be extended to include regional flights from Bamako to other countries within western and central Africa, including major hubs such as Dakar and Accra. Eventually, the carrier plans to link back to Europe and perhaps even to North America, although they will need to secure widebody aircraft.

The airline will take its place as the only scheduled international carrier operating out of Mali and represent how far the country has come.