The Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC, is the 2nd largest country in Africa and 11th largest in the world. Its vast landscape and strategic location, with 90 million people, makes it ideal for the aviation industry. However, as the country is still under-developed, the local industry is in its infancy and has a long way to go until it becomes the powerhouse its size would intend. The country used to be home to many private airlines zipping around the region, but recent crackdowns by the aviation authority (following several mechanical failures) have stripped the active airlines down to a core contingent.
According to the CH-Aviation database, there are 22 registered airlines in the country, split up into charter operators, cargo airlines, and scheduled carriers. Let’s jump into it.
When it comes to scheduled passenger airlines, there are two major players and a few minor regional airlines.
The flag carrier for the country is the adeptly named Congo Airways. Based out of the hub of N’djili Airport, it has four aircraft and flies to 10 destinations, two of which are international (South Africa and Cameroon). It was created in 2014 with help from Air France, to provide passenger travel for the many citizens of the country.
Currently, it uses two Airbus A320s it acquired from Alitalia for its international routes, and two Dash 8-400s for its local regional operations. To get a fantastic discount during the industry downturn in the mid-2020s, Congo Airways ordered two Embraer E-190E2s. They doubled down on the order in early 2021, with two bigger Embraer E-195E2s, for a combined price of $272 million US.
“We see an opportunity in our market and the crisis we are all facing for Congo Airways to emerge stronger – which is why we are not waiting to place this further order. These new jets will allow us to extend our passenger and cargo operations regionally to high-demand destinations such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Abidjan. As we prepare for future success, we will have the flexibility, and the right-sized, most efficient aircraft, to serve our customers as the market returns.” – CEO of Congo Airways Desire Bantu said in a press release.
The airline plans to slowly expand and offer more range of international destinations such as Luanda, Pointe Nore, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Lagos, and more – with even flights to Dubai and China on the cards once it acquires long-haul aircraft. On the cards is also a pair of Boeing 777 cargo aircraft (especially thanks to the increased cargo demand), with the airline flirting with acquiring them by 2022.
“We have huge cargo demand, and although the market right now is mostly dominated by foreign airlines bringing in freight from abroad, we will work with the government to help stimulate exports, possibly from agriculture which is being relaunched,”
Compagnie Africaine d’Aviation
The second-largest scheduled carrier in the country is Compagnie Africaine d’Aviation, or known as the Africa Aviation Company, with the marketing name, flyCAA. They are based at the same hub airport of N’dhili Airport and have a fleet of eight aircraft.
- One Airbus A321-200
- One Airbus A330-200
- Two ATR 72s
- Four Fokker 50s
The airline has also had a huge range of other aircraft over the years, from Mcdonnell MD-80s to Russian Antonov An-32s. The carrier actually has one wide-body aircraft, the Airbus A330-200 that it purchased in 2020 to rumoured fly long-haul routes to Europe (the airline has repeatedly denied such claims), but currently uses it for domestic operations (notably for cargo). Alas, because of the current crisis and the requirements for the carrier to operate it with a European-based crew, plans have stalled. While odd, this requirement is not unheard of, with TAAG Angola using the expatriate aircrew loophole to fly its 777s into the European route.
CAA is a domestic operator but has plans to resume operations to South Africa (its original service was cancelled in 2016 after it failed to renew its international traffic rights) in the future.
Which are the other airlines of the country?
But these two airlines are not the only two airlines operating in the country, there is a multitude of others that are still very significant.
- Air Kasai, a Swedish firm, is a charter operator that flies from N’Dolo Airport. Currently, it has no aircraft in its fleet, but this may be more to do with a lack of passengers.
- Air Katanga, a passenger charter founded in 1996 with a single EMB-135LR based at Lubumbashi International Airport. The plane is used on a 4x weekly flight to support a US-owned mine in the region, hence why its aircraft is a former regional American Eagle (American Airlines) aircraft.
- Katanga Wings has a single MD-83 that it uses for passenger charter flights. It is based at Lubumbashi Luano International.
- Mwant Jet, a scheduled passenger carrier has grounded its EMB-145LU until market conditions improve.
- Swala Aviation, a passenger charter operator who has a single Dornier 228, which is useful to reach rural airports deep in the heart of the country
The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to three large-jet cargo carriers namely Gomair (based out of Goma) that has one B727-100F and one B737-300, Trans Air Cargo Service (who have the hub airport of Kinshasa N’Djili) that has two DC-8 freighters, and the largest of three, Serve Air Cargo (based out of Kinshasa N’Djili) with five B727-200s, one B737-300, and one B737-300. Serve Air Cargo was restarted in 2019 with the new fleet to meet the strict new government aviation certification requirements.
“This would allow us to have the personnel, assets, and a system in place to ensure the safety of its employees and the general public. It means we are using airworthy aircraft, maintaining operations manuals, accepting a system for training crew, and we have sufficient insurance coverage and a quality system to ensure that all applicable regulations are followed,” the Serve Air Cargo said in a statement
The DRC represents one of the biggest potential aviation markets in the world. Alas, its poor economical landscape and lack of international connectivity have made it a parched landscape for those operators choosing to brave the new frontier.