What Happened To Air Malawi?

Once the flag carrier of the southeastern African nation of Malawi, Air Malawi collapsed in 2013. However, the airline had a long history before that, stretching far back into the 1960s. So what happened to Air Malawi?

Air Malawi Boeing 737
Air Malawi operated an interesting fleet over its five-decade run, including the Boeing 747SP and 737s. Photo: Aeroprints.com via Wikimedia Commons


Air Malawi was founded in 1964 as a subsidiary carrier of the erstwhile Central African Airways (CAA). CAA was the parent airline of several flag carriers under British rule in the continent and lasted until 1967.

Air Malawi kicked off operations using a fleet of three de Havilland Canada DHC-2s and two DC-3s. All of these aircraft were leased from the CAA, which also provided the needed personnel and equipment to begin flying. The airline focused on domestic and regional routes during much of its existence.

Douglas DC-3
Air Malawi began operating with a modest fleet of five aircraft for regional services across central Africa. Photo: Josh Beasley via Wikimedia Commons

The airline’s first domestic route was from the country’s financial capital of Blantyre to Salima and then onward to Ndola, Zambia. The carrier later expanded to Beira, Mozambique, and Harare, Zimbabwe, internationally. Domestically, the carrier flew to Salima, Mzuzu, Lilongwe, and more, an impressive number of cities for the small nation.


Following the end of Central African Airways, Air Malawi became the independent flag carrier of Malawi. The airline also grew its fleet in the process, adding two Vickers Viscounts and a Beech C55 Baron. The new fleet opened up more routes for the carrier, including into South Africa.

Through the 1970s, the airline continued to add more aircraft and fly further than before. The purchase of the BAC One-Eleven opened up routes to Johannesburg and Nairobi, cementing the airline as a major regional carrier.

Air Malawi BAC One-Eleven
New jet aircraft like the BAC One-Eleven allowed Air Malawai to enter new markets in south and east Africa. Photo: Steve Fitzgerald via Wikimedia Commons

However, 1972 saw Air Malawi take a huge leap. The airline leased a Vickers VC-10 from British Caledonian to establish services to London. The aircraft opened up a new Blantyre-Nairobi-Gatwick service for the airline in 1974. Other destinations like Amsterdam have also added thanks to the sole VC-10.

However, long-haul international routes were scrapped in 1978. Instead, the carrier focused on its previous regional network on African services.

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747 and issues

In 1985, Air Malawi wet-leased a Boeing 747SP from South African Airways and repainted it in livery for a single flight the President of Malawi. The aircraft was only used for that flight to London and removed from the fleet afterward.

By the 1990s, Air Malawi was eying a shift towards newer aircraft like the Boeing 737-300 and -500 series, ATR 42s, and more. This would better serve the primarily short-haul and domestic routes served by the carrier during the decade.

Air Malawi Boeing 747SP
While a Boeing 747SP once carried the Air Malawi livery, it was only for VIP service and never remained in the fleet. Photo: Steve Fitzgerald via Wikimedia Commons

However, the early 2000s saw Air Malawi run into financial difficulties. The government was unwilling to fund the airline and tried to privatize it on two occasions. Deals were struck with South African Airways and Comair in 2003 and 2007 respectively but were never completed.

By 2012, it became clear that Malawi’s flag carrier would have to wind down without new equity. With no more bidders, Air Malawi was officially shut down in February 2013, after nearly 50 years in service.