Hewa Bora Airways was the national carrier of the DRC for nearly 20 years. It was formed in 1994 from the merger of several smaller Zairean airlines including Shabair (formed in 1984) and Zaire Express. By this time the national airline Air Zaire was in dire financial straits and in fact it was declared bankrupt by a court in Brussels on June 12, 1995. Another major Zairean airline, Scibe Airlift, which was owned by a family member of Zaire's military dictator Mobuto Sese Seko lasted itself only until 1998; no doubt helped on its way by Mobuto's overthrow and death a year earlier by forces loyal to Laurent-Desire Kabila. I should note that Mobuto died of Cancer rather than being strung up as he deserved, since he was truly an awful awful human being.
Before 1997 Hewa Bora was known as Zaire Airlines but following the overthrow of Mobuto the country regained its earlier title of the Congo and the carrier was suitably renamed Congo Airlines. Sadly far from bringing about stability the end of the Mobuto regime led to a series of Civil Wars that devastated the already impoverished country, involved no less than 9 African nations, UN Peacekeepers and 20 armed groups and led to the deaths of over 5.4 million people. Ironically given its natural resources the Congo ought to be wealthy but history has seen that isn't the case!
Fortunately Hewa Bora was able to continue its long-haul operations as it had acquired a second Tristar 500 from Delta. In fact Delta would be a source of several 727-200s also. This Tristar was registered as 9Q-CHC but had originally been delivered to Air Canada on May 14, 1981 as C-GAGI. Sold to Delta in April 1992 she was reregistered as N767DA and served a further 8 years before storage and sale to the Congo. She operated her first service to Brussels on August 17, 2002 and was used primarily on this service for nearly 5 years until being withdrawn on January 28, 2007. Interestingly Hewa Bora competed on this route with Brussels Airlines new Airbus A330s.
By 2007 Hewa Bora had been receiving the kind of attention that no airline wants. On March 22, 2006 its entire fleet, except for the Tristar, was banned from European airspace due to safety concerns. Since only the Tristar ventured near Europe this was largely academic, but still not a good look. In February 2007 Hewa Bora had acquired an ex-Air Gabon 767-266ER, 9Q-COG, and this airframe swapped with the Tristar to become the allowed EU operational aircraft. 9Q-CHC was retired at Kinshasa and remained there in storage as of 2012. The 767 introduced a new logo and colour scheme for the airline but it was to be a rather false beginning.
By this time Congo was devolving into Civil War once again, stoked by the Rwandans, and this can't have assisted Hewa Bora's attempts to run an airline. The 767 was sold (though seemingly subsequently leased back) and on April 11, 2008 the entire airline was therefore banned from operating in the EU. The 767 kept open the route to Johannesburg into 2010 but by July 2010 was stored at Miami.
Hewa Bora has to date been the last Congolese airline that has operated to Europe. Instead a codeshare was setup with Brussels Airlines but this disintegrated in 2009 and for a short time a RAK Airways 757 was wet-leased to once again reopen the Brussels route, also stopping at Paris. This didn't last and Hewa Bora itself gradually began to collapse, suffering 3 major crashes between April 2008 and July 2011. The last accident, involving 727-100 9Q-COP, led to the suspension of the airline's air operating certificate and the deaths of 74 people.
In March 2012 FlyCongo was formed from the ashes of Hewa Bora Airways (and even got the 767 back) but it lasted only until October when it merged with Compagnie Africaine d'Aviation (CAA). This airline, which has been operating since 1991, nowadays only operates domestic flights with a fairly modern fleet of A320s and Fokker 50s; however as with all Congolese airlines it is still banned from Europe and indeed even failed to keep its traffic rights to South Africa.
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: