East African Airways

Early Days

The predecessor of East African Airways was an airline called Wilson Airways. (see separate page)

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.

The 1950s

The start of the new decade showed an improvement to the company finances.

An analysis of the cost per seat-mile shows:

  • DH89A = 41 cents
  • Dove = 34 cents
  • Lodestar = 19 cents

The Doves could not entirely replace the Dragon Rapides, as they could not operate safely from some of the smaller airfields. Therefore it was decoded to sell the still new Doves and buy more Lodestars. The Doves were sold in 1950 and 1951.

The Lodestar fleet eventually totalled fifteen, following the purchase of three from the Congo in 1949 and seven from South African Airways in 1950.

The Dakotas soon showed their superiority over the Lodestars and operated services to Nyasaland (now Malawi) and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) as well as South Africa. In 1952 EAAC purchased six ex-RAF Dakotas, which were fitted with twenty-eight seats and new radio equipment by Field Aviation Services Ltd before delivery to Nairobi. The last Lodestar service was flown in February 1953.

In February 1952 East African Airways became the first commercial airline to cary a reigning British monarch. The death of King George VI occurred when Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh were in Kenya on their royal tour and arrangements were swiftly made to cancel the remainder of the tour and for the royal couple to return to England by air. The new queen and consort flew in Dakota VP-KHK (named ‘Sagana’ after the royal lodge), piloted by Wing Commander A. N. Francombe, MBE, DSO, from Nanyuki to Entebbe where they boarded a BOAC Argonaut (Canadair) for London.

In 1953, three Macchi MB 320s were purchased to replace the Dragon Rapides on services around Lake Victoria. Unfortunately they were far from successful. The delivery flight of the first machine was interrupted by a wheels-up landing in the Sudan desert about 100 miles south of Khartoum when an oil pipe burst and the starboard engine failed. This event was followed by three similar incidents, all involving wheels-up landings, and after a relatively short time all three aircraft were sold locally.

In 1953 the Kenya government was considering the introduction of shorter tours of duty for government officials, using air transport for leave passages, and accordingly requested EAAC to examine the possibility of providing a service to the UK at a lower fare than BOAC and South African Airways (SAA). Eventually however, an agreement was concluded with BOAC under which the government leave traffic would be shared between EAAC and BOAC on an equal basis and EAAC would initially lease, and subsequently purchase, four Canadair C-4 Argonauts. This was hardly the aircraft that EAAC wanted. They preferred the Convair 440 but BOAC who had a controlling interest in EAAC wanted to find homes for their ageing Canadairs so overruled. The Canadairs were old (1949), noisy and generally not very highly regarded. Aden Airways (a BOAC Associated Company) also had Canadairs foisted upon them by the parent company! The original delivery date for the first aircraft was 31st March 1956 but this was subsequently revised to October 1956 with a further two aircraft in 1957 and the final one in 1958. In September 1957 the Argonauts (or Canadairs as they were known to EAAC) were introduced on a new service to India and Pakistan via Aden. This was in addition to a once-a-week services to London, Johannesburg via Blantyre and also Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Later the service to India and Pakistan was increased to twice-weekly. By 1958 East African realised that if it was to succeed as an international airline, it would have to purchase more modern aircraft to compete with the Britannias and Comets of BOAC. A bold decision at the time for a small airline led to the order for two Comet 4s, to be delivered in July and September 1960. Meanwhile the last Canadair to be delivered (VR-KOT) was returned to BOAC later in 1958. It was decided that pending the delivery of the Comets, Britannias would be leased from BOAC and British United for the London route.

The 1960s and the Jet Age

In 1960 EAAC took delivery of the two Comets (VP-KPJ and VP-KPK), which were soon put into service. As a result the operating profit for 1960 soared from £40,000 in the previous year to an amazing £460,683.

During the year, a pool agreement was signed between EAAC, BOAC, CAA (Central African Airways) and SAA (South African Airways). Another significant event was the establishment of Seychelles-Kilimanjaro Air Transport (SKAT) as a wholly owned, non-IATA subsidiary of EAAC. Two Rapides (VP-KEF and VP-KNS) were transferred to the new company to operate the non-profitable services between Zanzibar, Tanga, Dar-es-Salaam and Pemba. The two remaining Rapides were sold for £30,000 each.

At the end of 1960 it was decided to order a further Comet, with a delivery date of April 1962. In early 1961, consideration was given to a Dakota replacement. The design choice was between the Avro 748, Handley-Page Herald and the Fokker Friendship. The latter was finally selected and three Series 200 Friendships were ordered, for delivery in October, November and December 1962. An option was taken on a fourth aircraft.

In July 1961 East African Airways Comets and Canadairs augmented the RAF Britannias, Beverleys and Hastings aircraft in an airlift of troops to Aden and Bahrein as a result of a crisis in Kuwait, when it was threatened by Iraq.

One of the Canadairs was lost in April 1962 when it crashed at Embakasi Airport while on crew training. The crew of three escaped unhurt but the captain urged the fire-crews to “let it burn”. Obviously not a well-loved aircraft!

After the delivery of the third Comet, the two surviving Canadairs were sold (after a period on lease to Aden Airways). The Comets now operated seven flights a week to London via Rome, two flights a week to Karachi and Bombay and two flights per week to Johannesburg. The first Friendship was delivered in November 1962 and the type quickly replaced Dakotas on several routes in early 1963. the Friendships were ideal for the task and the option on the fourth aircraft was confirmed.

The “winds of change” were now starting to be felt in Africa. Tanganyika was the first of the four territories to gain its independence in May 1961, followed by Uganda in 1962, while Kenya achieved internal self-government in August 1963 with full independence at the end of the year. The SAA service ceased in the same year due to a ban on landing rights by several African countries as a protest against apartheid. EAAC continued to fly twice-weekly flights (Comet to Johannesburg and a Friendship to Durban) until October. On 29th August a Dakota (VP-KJT) was burnt out in mysterious circumstances on the ground at Francistown shortly before it was due to fly twenty-eight refugees from Bechuanaland (now Botswana) to Tanganyika. As a result the existing pool arrangements came to an end. A new bilateral agreement was signed with BOAC. Other pool arrangements with Air India and Air France followed.

East African Airways leased a DC-7F from BOAC to operate a new weekly all-freight service between London and Nairobi, which was inaugurated on Friday October 4th 1963. The aircraft called at Cairo southbound and at Entebbe and Benina northbound. The service was licensed for the carriage of traffic between the UK and points in East Africa only.

Following independence of Kenya and Zanzibar in December 1963, the flags of the four nations was painted on the tails of the aircraft. However this quickly became three after a revolution in Zanzibar in 1964 and its merger with Tanganyika to become Tanzania.

The fourth Friendship entered service in January 1964 along with a replacement Dakota for the one lost at Francistown

In October 1964, the first four Africans went to the Airwork school at Perth for pilot training as one of the first long-term steps in the policy of Africanisation which followed independence. At the end of the year Alfred Vincent retired after sixteen years as Chairman of the Corporation and was superseded by Chief Abdullah Said Fundikira.

1965 uniform

In January 1965 a committee was appointed to review the constitutional position of the Corporation as a result of independence. As a consequence of its deliberations regarding ownership, the fleet which had hitherto been registered entirely in Kenya, was apportioned as equally as possible between the three countries and re-registered accordingly. In addition, BOAC were asked to relinquish their interest in E.A.A.C. in return for assurances that the £11 million loan made by BOAC in 1959 would be redeemed by 1967-68. In actual fact this target was improved upon and the loan was redeemed by the end of 1966.

Early in 1965 another committee was set up to report on a Comet replacement and an initial list of nine possible types was reduced to three, the DC-8 Jet Trader, Boeing 707-320C and the Vickers Super VC10. The committee presented its recommendations in March in favour of the Super VC10 and a contract for three aircraft, worth with spares nearly £11 million, was signed with the British Aircraft Corporation. These aircraft differed from BOAC’s Super VC10s by having a large loading door on the port side, giving access to a spacious freight compartment, and were designated Type 1154.

Following the application of experimental colour schemes to Dakotas 5Y-AAE and 5H-AAL, a new livery for the fleet was announced in October 1965. This featured the six basic colours of the flags of the three countries (red, yellow, green, blue white and black). The national flags were reproduced on the tail fin on a white disc superimposed on a twelve-pointed yellow “star” with the flag of the country of registration surmounting the other two. At the same time the word “Airways” was dropped from the fuselage titling.

During 1966 the Comets achieved a peak utilisation of 11 hours per day before being replaced by Super VC10s. By the end of the year the three Comets had accumulated a total of 57,370 flying hours and had been supplemented by another machine leased from BOAC (5Y-ADD the former G-APDL).

One of the two Dragon Rapides operated by S.K.A.T. was lost when it was burnt out on the ground at Dar-es-Salaam in September and the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter was selected to replace the survivor on the services from the mainland to Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia. S.K.A.T. lost £12,383 on these unprofitable routes during the year, although it should be noted that all domestic fares and rates had been maintained constant for ten years.

The first Super VC10 (5X-UVA) was delivered on 30th September, followed by 5H-MMT in November, and these aircraft took over from Comets on the London- East Africa services before the end of the year. Tight scheduling during the first four months of Super VC10 operations resulted in a number of delays but the situation was relieved after the delivery of the third machine (5Y-ADA) in April the following year. The financing of the Super VC10s was on a leasing basis with a 20 per cent down payment and the balance repaid from revenue over seven years at quarterly intervals from the delivery date of each aircraft. The aircraft were registered to the British Aircraft Corporation until the end of the lease, when ownership was to be transferred to E.A.A.C. for a nominal fee.

In January 1967 East African Airways came of age and the event was well publicised by a set of four commemorative stamps issued by the joint postal authority of the three countries and which featured the Dragon Rapide (30c), Super VC10 (50c), Comet 4 (1/30) and F27 Friendship (2/50).

Publicity shot – Priscilla d’ souza, Iris Breidenbend and Mary Muganga

Only a month after the delivery of the third Super VC10 it was announced that a contract had been signed for another machine, with an option on a fifth. The order for two Twin Otters was increased to four and the first aircraft (5H-MNK) entered service on the offshore routes in July. The last Dragon Rapide (5H-AAN) was honourably retired in early 1968 after the arrival of the second Twin Otter (5H-MNR). Happily 5H-AAN was completely overhauled and sold with a large quantity of spares to a local operator with whom it was still flying in the 1970s – the sole remaining example of the type on the East African Register.

Super VC10s were introduced on the Eastern service to India and Pakistan towards the end of 1966 and the last Comet was operated on these routes in November 1967. The Comets were then used on the medium-haul routes within the African continent as well as on an inter-city service linking the three capitals. However, due to corrosion, an expensive modification programme had to be undertaken to prolong the life of these aircraft and one was returned to the manufacturer in November 1967, followed by the other two in 1968.

The three East African states signed the Treaty for East African Co-operation on 1st December 1967, which created an East African economic community and resulted in the former common services of airways, railways, harbours and post office being reconstituted. East African Airways Corporation thus became an institution of the community and a new board of directors was appointed.

During 1968 the other two Twin Otters were delivered and used on short-haul services and charter flights. A major change in the activities of S.K.A.T. took place when it ceased to operate the Zanzibar, Pemba, Tanga and Dar-es-Salaam services and instead operated long-haul charter flights with the Comets (subsequently transferred to the subsidiary) at non-I.A.T.A. fares.

Other developments included the extension of the Eastern service from Bombay to Hong Kong (with the ultimate intention of extending as far as Tokyo) and the introduction of a once-weekly call at Athens on the European route. Long-term Africanisation plans resulted in twenty-seven pilots completing basic flying training courses in Great Britain and the U.S.A. and joining the airline as cadet pilots, while seven African first officers were flying on the Friendship and Dakota services by the end of 1968.

The Dakota fleet was reduced from nine aircraft to six by sales to Zambia and Malawi and consideration was given in 1968 to the choice of a new type to augment the Friendships on the inter-city domestic routes and to replace the Comets on the African regional routes. Types reported to be under consideration were the BAC One-Eleven, Boeing 737 and McDonnell-Douglas DC-9.

Nairobi Embakasi view mid 1960s

The fourth VC10 (5X-UVJ) was delivered in April 1969 and resulted in an expansion of the international network to include Copenhagen and Bangkok as well as increased calls at Frankfurt, Paris, Rome and Hong Kong. Despite increased activity in the charter field by S.K.A.T. (supplementing Comets with Super VC10s chartered from E.A.A.) the effects of other non-scheduled operators resulted in a low growth rate in E.A.A.C.’s passenger traffic. The addition of the fourth Super VC10 provided a large increase in capacity and the seat load factor fell from 47.2 per cent in 1968 to 41.5 per cent. These factors combined with the rescinding of the increases in domestic fares and rates introduced in 1968, led to a disappointing financial result in 1969.

By the end of the decade, the Comets were showing their age. They were now un-economic on the short haul routes and lacked both range and capacity for the long haul. During November 1969 two McDonnell-Douglas DC-9-15s were leased from the manufacturer pending a decision on the Comet replacement. The first arrived under mysterious circumstances at Nairobi as no one (except the chairman Chief Fundikira) knew of this decision. With no training and no way of accepting the new aircraft into service the leasing contract was abruptly terminated before the second aircraft (due in February) had arrived. The terms of the leasing arrangement were not made public at the time. The first two Comets (5H-AAF and 5X-AAO) were withdrawn from service at that time because of corrosion and, following the cancellation of the DC-9 leasing, arrangements were made to lease a Comet 4 from Dan-Air to operate the Comet services in conjunction with 5Y-AAA. In view of the urgency of the situation 5Y-ALD was delivered as a stop-gap on 9th January, retaining most of its Dan-Air colour scheme. It was returned to Dan-Air in March after 5Y-ALF had been suitably prepared and repainted in full E.A.A. livery.

The 1970s – the Final Decline

In the final decade the airline was to suffer from political interference, chronic lack of capital, increased competition and the eventual loss of experienced staff.

The fifth (and last production) Super VC10 (5H-MOG) was delivered early in March and the following month a brief announcement revealed that three McDonnell Douglas DC-9 Series 30s had been ordered for delivery in 1970-71.

A major event occurred on 10th December 1970 with the inauguration of a once-weekly service between Nairobi and New York via Zurich with which E.A.A.C. hoped to capture some of the American tourist traffic to East Africa. It was intended that the DC-9s would be delivered in November and December 1970 but for various reasons only one aircraft (5H-MOI) was received before the end of the year. This delay resulted in the appearance of yet another Dan-Air Comet (5Y-AMT) as a replacement for 5Y-ALF which was returned off lease. Being on short-term lease, 5Y-AMT suffered minimal alterations to its original livery and had the distinction of operating the last flight when more than ten years of Comet operations ceased on 19th February 1971. All three East African Airways Comets were sold to Dan-Air for spares.

A dedicated fully palletised cargo service was started on 28th January 1971 by EAA between Zambia, East Africa and the UK. The aircraft was a Britannia provided by Lloyd International Airways. The cargo capacity was 16 tons on 8 pallets. Unfortunately the service was rarely full and in its first year produced a loss to the airline of K£450,000.

The airline had overextended itself with the flights to New York and the eastern extension from Bombay to Hong Kong. As a result of increasing losses both services were “suspended” in July 1971, never to be restarted.

Tragedy hit the airline in 1972 when a Super VC-10 was lost with heavy loss of life. On the morning of 18th April, passengers boarded 5X-UVA at Addis Ababa on flight EC720 which was heading to London from East Africa. On takeoff, as the aircraft was accelerating down the runway a loud bang was heard, followed by intense vibration. The flight crew immediately aborted the take-off, applied full braking and reverse thrust but the aircraft was already traveling at about 140 knots. The runway at Addis Ababa did not have an ‘over run’ at that time and the aircraft hit the top of a ditch, crashed into a lighting tower and finally came to rest with the tail broken off by the impact. As the survivors were exiting the aircraft, it burst into flames. Three flight crew (including Captain John Vale), four cabin crew and 35 passengers died in the tragedy. In the subsequent enquiry, it was discovered that a jacking pad from a light aircraft had become detached and imbedded into the tarmac of the runway. 5X-UVA hit this small object and was responsible for badly damaging the nose wheel and bursting a tyre. Another factor, was the incorrect fitting of a brake assembly at Nairobi which meant that the braking system was not as effective as it should have been. (from Peter J. Davis).

to be continued…