Malawian tourism, aviation and hospitality company Rayoni Holdings Limited has announced it has secured an air operator's certificate (AOC) from the country's civil aviation authority (MCAA) and intends to launch tourism-focused commercial flights in August/September 2024 under the brand name Rayoni Tourism Airline.

In a statement, the holding said it was finalising procedures for the launch of its inaugural flights. It said the AOC entitles Rayoni Tourism Airline to operate scheduled, un-scheduled and charter flights across Malawi and beyond. The holding said it was dedicated to promoting tourism in Malawi, particularly the northern region. Rayoni Holdings is the wholly-owned investment company of Mughona Trust, a family trust.

Accountable Manager Anthony John Mukumbwa informed ch-aviation that the airline's fleet would comprise two E145s, two Beech 1900Ds, and four Cessna (single turboprop) Caravan 208s. He said the Embraer and Beechcraft would be used for regional flights bringing tourists to Malawi, predominantly from South Africa and Tanzania (Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro). All aircraft would initially be leased, but the company intends to procure them once it has secured the appropriate funding.

Mukumbwa said Rayoni Holdings was in talks with several operators for "joint venture operations for the local, regional, and international flights using our AOC and also for the management of the start-up airline". "We are searching for lessors with planes to lease to us on dry-lease or ACMI basis. We're also looking for institutions that can provide lease finance for leasing and/or loans for the purchase of the appropriate planes," he disclosed.

Based at Mzuzu, a gateway to Lake Malawi, the startup plans to operate direct flights to the capital Lilongwe International and the Nyika National Park in northern Malawi. Likoma Island in Lake Malawi will be served en route between Lilongwe and Nyika. Through a commercial partnership with Ethiopian Airlines, the Malawian carrier intends to feed and de-feed international flights at Lilongwe, plus Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar in Tanzania.

Rayoni Tourism Airline intends to provide all-inclusive tour packages for Malawi, Zambia, and Tanzania. "By partnering with Ethiopian Airlines Group, we market our tour packages globally and offer transportation services to Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro, " it explained. Four tours from Mzuzu will include Vwaza and Nyika; Karonga and Chitipa on the Zambian border; Nkhata Bay on the western shore of Lake Malawi; and Likoma.

Apart from the airline, Rayoni Holdings's other investments in Malawi tourism include an international convention centre in the capital-raising stage, a hotel in the design stage, and an operational tourism centre. "Two big hotels are going to use our services to move their guests to tour sites, including game reserves, which our sister company, Rayoni Tourism Centre, will organise," Mukumbwa explained. "Some governmental institutions are considering utilising our flights to fly staff around the country for official work instead of driving. One big church wants us to move its international congregants to various spiritual places in Malawi once they land at the international airport. Being a start-up airline, we think the above activities will be helpful for the launch and operational efficiency."

In a separate statement, Malawi's Ministry of Transport and Public Works confirmed the June 2024 certification of Rayoni Holdings Limited and Flytech (registered as Flytech Aviation Group on the Malawi business register) as being authorised to provide charter and scheduled flights.

It also confirmed that the MCAA has renewed the AOC of Ethiopian Airlines' joint venture Malawi Airlines (3W, Lilongwe International). The MCAA has also signed bilateral air services agreements with Mozambique (November 2023) and Saudi Arabia (May 2024), established a cooperative framework with Zambia for air traffic and search and rescue services, and licenced the Majete, Liwonde, and Tongole aerodromes. Established in October 2023, the MCAA has taken over regulatory functions that previously fell under the country's Department of Civil Aviation in the Ministry of Transport and Public Works.