Today we are going to take a look at what happened to the original Air Mali. Before we get into that, though, let’s first look at the African country and see why it needed a national airline.
Officially known as the Republic of Mali, it is a landlocked country in West Africa that encompasses an area of 480,000 square miles. Most of the country’s 21.9 million inhabitants live in the south in an area referred to as the Sudanian savanna.
Once a former French colony Mali gained its independence in 1960 and decided to create a new airline called” Société Nationale Air Mali.” When the airline was founded, the government offered 45|% of the airline’s shares to private investors, but there were few takers.
Aeroflot provided pilots and technical assistance
Knowing that they would need outside help to get the airline up and running, Air Mali received technical assistance from Soviet national carrier Aeroflot who also provided aircraft for the startup. The airline began operations in 1961 with three former British European Airways (BEA) Douglas DC-3s given to it by the British government.
Initially, the only flights were for government officials traveling between Bamako and various administrative centers. The same year Air Mali joined the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The first passenger flight was between Bamako and Gao, an important Sub-Saharan trading center on the Niger River. Before Air Mali took over the route, Air France used to operate a weekly service with a Douglas DC-3. Air Mali increased the frequency of the route to two flights per week.
Air Mali began flying to Europe
In March 1961, Air Mali signed a contract with the Soviet Union for several Ilyushin Il-18s, Ilyushin Il-14s, Antonov An-24s, and Mil Mi-2 helicopters. When the Ilyushin Il-18s arrived at the end of the summer, Air Mali expanded its international operations, adding flights to Paris, Casablanca, and Marseille. In the beginning, Russians piloted the aircraft while Mali pilots underwent training.
When the Il-14s arrived, Air Mali expanded its African network with flights to Monrovia, Abidjan, Accra, Douala, Brazzaville, Dakar, and Conakry. The airline also began to serve destinations in Mali that previously had no air service. Most domestic flights lost money but were subsidized by revenue from international flights.
By the end of the 1960s, Air Mali was forced to find a replacement for the Il-18s turboprops as they had become too costly to operate and maintain. In 1971 the airline received its first jet, a Boeing 727-100
which was used for its North African and French flights. The aircraft was joined soon after by a second Boeing 727-100, which Air Mali used for medium-range routes in Africa. By the spring of 1980 Air Mali had 577 employees and a fleet made up of the following aircraft:
- 1 x An-24B
- 1 x Boeing 707-320C
- 1 x Boeing 727-100C
- 1 x Ilyushin Il-18
- 2 x de Havilland Canada Twin Otters
The government closed down the airline in 1988
On February 22, 1985, disaster struck when an An-24 suffered engine problems after taking off from Timbuktu Airport (TOM). The pilots tried to return to the airport, but the plane crashed. All but one of the 52 passengers and crew dies in the accident.
Burdened with ever-mounting debts and the accident still fresh in everyone’s minds in 1988, the government decided to close down the airline. A year later, the airline’s routes were taken over by Malitas.
During its 29-year history, Air Mali had the following aircraft in its fleet:
- Airbus A300B4
- Antonov An-2
- Antonov An-24B
- Antonov An-24RV
- Boeing 707-320C
- Boeing 727-100C
- Boeing 737-200
- Caravelle III
- Caravelle 10B
- Douglas C-47A
- Ilyushin Il-14
- Ilyushin Il-14P
- Ilyushin Il-18D
- Ilyushin Il-18V
- Twin Otter