The predecessor of East African Airways was an airline called Wilson Airways.
This was formed by a lady named Mrs Florence Wilson in July 1929. This was shortly after she had flown from Nairobi to England in a Fokker Universal (VP-KAB). She realised the need to develop air transport in East Africa and had the capital to start it. The first aircraft flown was a DH60G Gipsy Moth (VP-KAC) and was based in Nairobi. The initial operations were charter work as there were only three airstrips in existence at that time.
Further aircraft were obtained and scheduled airmail services were introduced between Nairobi, Dar-es-Salaam and Kampala. By the outbreak of war in 1939, Wilson Airways had 15 aircraft including DH89A Dragon Rapides and Percival Vega Gulls. At this time all Wilson Airways aircraft were impressed into the Kenya Auxiliary Air Unit (KAAU) and the airline ceased to exist.
The formation of East African Airways was originated from a committee recommendation in 1943. It was to be a single authority for air transport responsible to the governments of Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar (last two are now the republic of Tanzania). All these territories at that time were colonies of Britain. The new corporation was to be named the East African Airways Corporation and was incorporated in London on 30th October 1945
The first aircraft received were 6 ex-RAF DH89A Dominies, which had been previously registered to BOAC, from whom they were leased. The first two arrived in July 1945 with the remainder being delivered a few months later. In the first year of operations the DH89As were flown on 21 services a week, serving Nairobi, Mombassa, Tanga, Zanzibar, Dar-es-Salaam, Lindi, Morogoro, Nduli, Southern Highlands, Chunya, Mbeya, Moshi, Kisumu, Eldoret, Kitale and Entebbe. Total mileage flown was 587,073 with 9,404 passengers. However it made a deficit of £25,483.
There was criticism during the year as the result of a forced landing by Rapide VP-KCU in which the pilot, five passengers and a baby girl were stranded in the bush for three days. It occurred on the 28th June on a flight from Nairobi to Mombassa when the pilot flew on the wrong bearing and had to make a forced landing near Garsen, in wild country. An air search covering 30,000 square miles resulted in the wreck being spotted by an RAF Baltimore on the 30th but it was not until the following day that a ground rescue party managed to reach the unfortunate occupants. They were uninjured but had to survive on a diet of biscuits, marmalade, chocolate and whisky!
VP-KCU was replaced locally by a former Wilson Airways Dragon Rapide and the fleet was doubled the next year by the purchase of a further six DH89As (VP-KEA to F). In 1947 the number of passengers rose to 13,580 with nearly a million miles flown with the deficit reduced to £19,617. By that time, it had become obvious that certain routes were very un-economic, particularly Nairobi to Kitale via Eldoret, Dar-es-Salaam to Kasame via Mbeya and Nairobi to Dar-es-Salaam via Mwanza, which together amounted to almost the entire deficit. EAAC asked for a government subsidy for these routes to be retained. This was eventually authorised.
A significant step forward was taken in 1948 when five Lockheed 18-56 Lodestars were purchased from BOAC at the bargain price of £6,000 each, together with spares. These had previously been used by BOAC in the Middle East, based on Cairo and had specially rated Wright Cyclone engines well suited to ‘hot and high’ operations in East Africa. At about the same time the first of four de Havilland Doves was delivered new from England and put into service in April. The DH89As were replaced on all routes where airfield conditions allowed the Doves and Lodestars to operate. The Lodestars, with a cruising speed of 200 mph reduced the flight time from Nairobi to Dar-es-Salaam from 4 hours 40 minutes to 2 hours 30 minutes.
The year 1949 saw steady growth of traffic and further expansion of routes. In the latter part of the year, the first of several DC-3 Dakotas was acquired. This aircraft (VP-KHK) started proving flights in November and after delivery of two others, started a regular service to South Africa in 1950.