What Was Africa’s First Airline?

Given Africa’s long list of colonial rulers, it would be easy to assume that the first African airlines would have European roots. However, Africa’s first airline, while closely connected to Europe, is probably not the one you would have first guessed.

Airbus A330 EgyptAir
Egyptair has a fleet of 67 aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

In 1931 British consulting aeronautical engineer Alan Muntz visited Egypt intending to start an airline. The airline would be called Misr Airwork, with Misr being Arabic for Egypt, and Airwork the British aviation company owned by Muntz and Nigel Norman.

The first route was Cairo to Alexandria

On New Years’ Eve 1931, the government granted the exclusivity of air transport in Egypt to a division of Misr Airwork named Misr Airlines. When launched the following summer, Misr Airlines became the first airline in Africa and the seventh-oldest globally.

Misr Airlines
Misr Airlines began operations flying between Cairo and Alexandria. Photo: Poll, Willem van de via Wikipedia

Misr Airlines began flying from Cairo to Alexandria and Mersa Matruh using a six-passenger twin-engine de Havilland Dragon. In the coming years, new routes were added that had Misr Airlines flying as far as Haifa and Nicosia. Misr Airlines continued operating throughout World War Two, run by the Egyptian government, which then nationalized the airline in 1949. Now, as the airline’s sole owner, the government renamed it Misrair SAE.

Misrair entered the jet age in 1960

In 1949 Misrair bought ten short-range twin-engine Vickers Vikings, which were derived from the Vickers Wellington bomber. In 1951 MisrAir acquired three French-built four-engine Languedocs and used them to replace Vikings on the airline’s longer routes to Geneva, Khartoum, and Tehran.

When Egypt and Syria decided to form the United Arab Republic in 1958, Misrair was renamed United Arab Airlines (UAA). In 1960 UAA became the first airline in the region to enter the jet age by purchasing three Comet 4Cs. With a taste for jet aircraft and the need to fly longer international routes, UAA introduced the Boeing 707 in 1969, becoming the first airline in the region to operate the American long-haul jets.

United_Arab_Airlines_Comet_Soderstrom
UAA entered the jet age with the comet. Photo: Lars Söderström via Wikipedia

In 1971 when Egypt and Syria split, Egypt decided that it wanted to be called the Arab Republic of Egypt. With the name UAA being redundant, the state carrier changed its name to Egyptair.

After being hurt by the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 and a drop in tourism activity due to terrorist attacks, Egyptair was beginning to see a recovery. Unfortunately, the rally was short-lived thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which virtually wiped out air travel during 2020. Before COVID-19, Egyptair had planned to double its fleet size by 2025 and was showing resolve by becoming the second African airline after Air Tanzania to take delivery of the Airbus A220-300.

Egyptair today

Based at Cairo International Airport (CAI) on July 17th, 2008, Egyptair became the second African airline after South African Airways to join the Star Alliance network. Today Egyptair links Cairo with 87 destinations across 54 countries. According to the aviation data and statistics website, ch-aviation Egyptairs current fleet comprises the following aircraft:

12 x Airbus A220–300s
8 x Airbus A320neos
4 x Airbus A330-300s
29 x Boeing 737-800s
6 x Boeing 777-300ERs
6 x Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners

Have you ever flown with Egyptair? If so, please tell us what you thought of them in the comments.

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