History of aviation in Kenya

The development of aviation in African colonies closely followed that of their respective colonising countries. Aviation provided a quick means of transportation, cargo and mail to the colonies. The colonial powers were actively engaged in route survey, charting of air lanes and establishing flight paths and identification of landmarks for the budding aviation industry. In the British Empire, the Imperial Airways, which later became the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) was responsible for commercial development of air transport between Britain and its overseas colonial empire. A route was pioneered through Cairo, Sudan, East Arica and terminating in Cape Town. The inaugural Cairo – Cape Town flight was sponsored by the Times of London, taking off on 24th January 1920. The flight met a tragic end, crashing in Tabora on 27th February.



Eastern Africa

The ill-fated Cairo to Cape Town flight did not discourage the Imperial Airways from establishing a regular service through East Africa to Cairo. By 1926 there were regular flights between Khartoum and Kisumu by seaplane. Direct weekly flights were commenced between England and East Africa on 28th February 1931. Some of the earliest airlines in the colony were Wilson Airways Ltd. (1929 – 1939) and East African Airways (1928 – 1936). Wilson Airways was founded by Mrs. Florence Kerr Wilson, and grew to be a comprehensive air carrier across Kenya. It was disbanded in 1939 with the start of the Second World War. East African Airways operated to the gold-mining areas and competed briefly with Wilson Airways in carrying mail and passengers. The company was liquidated in February 1937. Wilson Airport was established in 1933 as Nairobi Aerodrome, and was used for Airmail by Imperial Airways. It was later renamed Wilson Airport in 1962 after the pioneer of aviation in Kenya, Ms Florence Kerr Wilson.

The East African Territories (Air Transport) Order was promulgated in October 1945 to control and regulate air navigation over Eastern Africa. The Order (Act) established the East African Air Transport Authority. The Authority was the supreme aviation authority in the region and was vested with the power to make regulations for the issuance of air services licenses and certain powers over the management of the East African Airways Corporation, also created by the same order. This corporation was created in 1946 and was responsible for running all domestic services in Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda and Zanzibar. The airline began operations with a fleet of hired de Havilland Dragon Rapide twin engine biplanes. East African Airways was transferred to the East African Common Services Organisation, and subsequently to the East African Community at its inauguration in 1967. The East African Community also established the East African Directorate of Civil Aviation, The East African Meteorological Department and the East African Customs and Excise Department.


The history of aviation in Ethiopia probably goes back to a flight by Haile Selassie in 1922 in Aden. This led to the establishment of the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force in 1929. The Air Force took delivery of a Potez 25-A2, a French twin-seat, single-engine biplane in 1929. Ethiopian Airlines was established in 1946 as a joint venture with American airline, TWA (Trans World Airlines), making its maiden flight from Addis Ababa to Cairo in April. Five US government surplus C-47 aircraft were purchased for the venture. This was to grow into one of Africa’s most well-known airlines.


East African Airways Corporation (EAA) (not to be confused with the earlier East African Airways, liquidated in 1939) was an airline jointly run by three countries then forming the East African Community, i.e., Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The airline was headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. When it was dissolved with the collapse of the Community in 1977, each country established its own national airline: Kenya Airways, Air Tanzania and Uganda Airlines respectively. EAA owned and operated various aircraft including Douglas DC-3, C-47, Canadair North Star C-4, DeHavilland Comet and Vickers VC10.


Kenya Airways

Kenya Airways was formed in 1977 after the collapse of the East African Community and subsequent disbanding of the jointly owned East African Airways. The airline was initially wholly government owned, however moves were made towards privatisation from 1986. Shares were offered to the public in 1996.