Most of us are easily able to identify flag carriers around the world. They are still reasonably common, however, not always essential. There are a few countries around the world that don’t have national airlines. What are those countries, and why don’t they follow the lead of so many others? We take a look at some of the most well-known examples.
Why do countries have flag carriers?
The definition of a flag carrier has changed a little over the years. These national airlines were initially financially supported by the local government or wholly owned by the state. However, a flag carrier can now be one that actively represents a nation.
It is a beacon of what the country represents, acting as its ambassador internationally. Take Qantas, for example. It is not state-owned however is still recognized as Australia’s flag carrier.
With so many airlines claimed as flag carriers, there are a few countries that don’t have national airlines. So, do countries need a flag carrier?
While flag carriers are common, their evolution makes them less of a necessity these days. Since not all flag carriers are financially funded by the government, it is mostly possible for every airline to embody the style of a flag carrier. That said, let’s take a look at some countries that don’t have a national airline and, in most cases, no airline at all.
Countries in Europe: Andorra and Liechtenstein
With just over 77,000 inhabitants, Andorra does not have an airport and therefore has no national airline. To reach the tiny country just 468km squared, travelers must fly into the south of France or north of Spain. The largest international airports to reach Andorra are in Barcelona, Spain, or Toulouse, France.
That said, there was an airline named after Andorra. Andorra Airlines was a commercial airline based in Catalonia with the sole purpose of connecting Spain with Andorra. It was founded in 2015 with one ATR 42 and one ATR 72. However, the airline ceased operations in 2016 without ever really taking off.
Liechtenstein is another country that does not have a flag carrier. Liechtenstein is even smaller than Andorra, with almost 39,000 citizens. It does not have an airport, and travelers can arrive via St. Gallen-Altenrhein Airport in Switzerland or Friedrichshafen Airport in Germany. Flights to Liechtenstein are served by Switzerland’s national airline, SWISS.
Europe: Bordering Italy
There are two registered countries surrounded by Italian territory which don’t have a national airline. San Marino, with close to 34,000 citizens and the Vatican City with around 850 citizens, have both never had flag carriers. Instead, passengers can travel to the countries through Italian borders.
The closest regional airport to San Marino is Rimini Airport, and from there, it is possible to drive across the border. Rome Fiumicino Airport is the nearest airport to the Vatican, and it is possible to walk across the border into the mini nation.
For both of these countries, access is simple. There will unlikely ever be a national airline for either San Marino or the Vatican. They don’t have airports, but also the accessibility is there without the need to fly.
Countries in Africa
Two countries in Africa do not have flag carriers. That means that 96% of Africa does have a national airline. Liberia and Guinea-Bissau are the exceptions. That’s not to say they never had a flag carrier. Instead, both countries had an airline before the turn of the century.
Air Liberia was founded in 1974 and served routes within the West African country. However, it didn’t last long. In 1990, the airline ceased operations, and since then, there has been no carrier that has taken its place.
Likewise, Air Bissau was founded in 1960 with a hub and headquarters in Bissau. Its fleet included aircraft like the Fokker F27, an Antonov An-24, and a Cessna 206. However, 38 years after it started, the airline folded, and all services transferred to what is now known as Cabo Verde Airlines.
Countries without national airlines in the Caribbean
Interestingly, there are a few countries within the Caribbean without national airlines. Out of the 13 Caribbean nations, six states do not have a flag carrier. They are:
- Dominican Republic;
- St. Kitts; and
- St. Lucia.
However, some of these countries did have their own airlines are some point in their history. St. Lucia Airways was formed in 1975 to transport passengers between St. Lucia and Martinique as well as Barbados. It had a minimal fleet of a single Lockheed L-100 and a Britten-Norman BN-2A Islander. However, it did also own a Boeing 707 for cargo use.
The airline folded in 1987.
Air Jamaica was another national flag carrier that has seen its day. In 1968, the airline was founded with the Jamaican government owning a majority share. The airline did well in its history. It even owned a Boeing 747 and Airbus A300 to fly on operations across the Atlantic.
In December 2004, the Jamaican government took full ownership of the airline in the interest of financial stability. However, it was later taken over by Caribbean Airlines in May 2011 and ceased operations in 2015.
The United States
The US makes it on to our list because technically, it does not have a national flag carrier. Instead, it has several airlines that represent it flying international and domestic routes. American Airlines, Delta, United, and Southwest are some of the few carriers that showcase all that the United States has to offer.
Yet, this wasn’t always the case. Pan American was at a point recognized at the unofficial flag carrier of the United States. It was principally located at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and began operations in October 1927. However, when it ceased operations in December 1991, there was no rush to replace the airline. Sometimes, having multiple airlines works just as well as having a single government-funded carrier. Sometimes, even better!
Other countries without flag carriers
Of course, there are many other countries that also don’t have flag carriers. These are:
- Central African Republic;
- Ivory Coast;
- Sierra Leone;
- Togo; and
- East Timor; and
- Antigua and Barbuda;
- Costa Rica;
- El Salvador;
- Honduras; and
- Bosnia and Herzegovina;
- Slovenia; and
- Kyrgystan; and
- Tonga; and
- Peru; and