Mali is a massive land-locked African nation (the 8th largest in Africa), with a rich history, that is made up of part of the Sahara Desert in the North and a wetter more fertile region in the South, through which both the River Niger and Senegal pass. It gained independence from France on June 20, 1960 and was renamed as Mali that September. At the time the population was about 4.5 million.
âMali is today a nation of over 20 million people, nearly 2 million of which live in the capital Bamako. Despite this due to continuing instability and poverty it is, as far as I can tell, effectively without an airline of its own, however this wasn't always the case and between 1960 and 1988 it had, like most everywhere, a state-run flag carrier - Air Mali.
âAir Mali came into existence almost immediately after independence, in October 1960 and as with many African flag carriers its history is tied to the regimes that ruled the country. Initially this was that of Modibo Keita, the nation's first President, who implemented a one-party state with ties to the Soviets. Although Air Mali started operations with a trio of ex-BEA DC-3s donated by the British Government, which began to takeover domestic services formerly operated by Air France, the fleet began to take on a distinctly Soviet feel. Even the DC-3s were flown by Czech pilots initially.
Keita âfollowed a variety of socialist policies including extensive nationalisation of economic resources, which aligned well with the Soviets and from the start of operations, in 1961, Aeroflot provided technical support and equipment. In addition to Ilyushin Il-14s, Antonov An-2s and helicopters, a pair of Ilyushin Il-18s arrived in August 1961 allowing international services to Paris, Casablanca and Marseille. A third aircraft joined in 1962. A pair of Antonov An-24s joined for domestic and regional routes in 1968 but the overthrow of the KeÃ¯ta âregime appears to have led to a closer relationship with the West after this.
Keita was replaced in a military coup by Moussa Traore whose own military led dictatorship clung on to power until mid-1991. Despite severe economic troubles, and a six-year drought between 1968 and 1974 that caused a famine, Air Mali was able to acquire new equipment during this period and it came from the USA.
The airline's new flagship was a second-hand Boeing 727-173C that had been originally delivered to the US supplemental airline World Airways on September 14, 1967 as N695WA. It had served several leases, to United Airlines, Ariana Afghan Airlines and Japan Air Lines, prior to being leased to Air Mali in July 1971. They appear to have acquired it outright in September 1974 when it was re-registered as TZ-ADR.
Below: This 1972 timetable has the 727 operating to Paris on Tuesday (returning Wednesday) and otherwise operating routes to Conakry/Freetown/Robertsfield/Abidjan on Monday, Abidjan/Accra/Douala,Brazzaville on Thursday and Dakar on Friday:
âBy then two of the Il-18s had been returned to the USSR and another had just crashed, on August 11, 1974. That left a single Il-18 in service, TZ-ADF, which had been leased from Aeroflot in April 1974. The 727 took up the slack and operated services within Africa, as well as longer range routes to Paris and Marseille.
The Air Mali fleet fluctuated somewhat with a pair of JAT Boeing 707s leased in 1979/80 and an ex-Syrian Caravelle joining in August 1980 for four years, as TZ-ADS. The most exciting addition however was a single Boeing 737-2D6 purchased from Air Algerie in June 1982, which became TZ-ADL. The airline was unsurprisingly loss making and attempts at economic reforms were not successful. By the mid-80s the fleet had been reduced to the 727, 737, 1 An-24, a DHC-6 Twin Otter and a Britten Norman Islander.
âThe crash of the airline's last Antonov An-24 in February 1985 appears to have been the trigger for the airline to be shut down, although it seems to have taken a few years for this to happen and it is likely that large debts played just as much of a part. The Boeing 737 was leased out, initially to Aerolineas Argentinas, and then sold off in 1986. The 727 was not sold until July 1988 when it became N199FE with Federal Express. She served with Fed Ex until October 1995 when she was donated to the Kansas Aviation Museum.
âMali itself has gone through tumultuous times since the first Air Mali's closure, with a March 1991 revolution overthrowing the Traore regime, which led to democratic elections. This stability allowed a second Air Mali to operate during the mid-90s for a period using an An-24 and Let-410. Unfortunately, ethnic tensions exacerbated by the impacts of climate change and Islamism has led to renewed unrest and in August 2020 a military coup. The nation remains desperately poor and unsurprisingly not a great place to operate an airline.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: