MIAMI – Today in Aviation, the Treaty of Yaoundé in 1961 established Air Afrique (RK) as a joint venture between Air France (AF) and UAT, each with a 17% holding.
For the majority of its life since its formation, RK was a Pan-African airline operated by a number of West African countries.
At the time, the eleven newly independent former French colonies in West Africa, namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Mauritania, Niger, the Republic of the Congo and Senegal, contributed the remaining 66% of the carrier’s capital, estimated at 500 million CFA francs.
A Multinational Airline
Air Afrique was established in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, as the official transnational carrier for francophone West and Central Africa since many of the countries in the region lacked the capacity to build and sustain a national airline. RK was a member of both the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the French Union’s ATAF, joining the former in 1962.
On January 5, 1962, the carrier began flying Boeing 707s leased from Air France on the Paris–Dakar–Abidjan, and Paris–Douala–Brazzaville routes; these were the carrier’s first intercontinental jet flights. In December of that year, the airline placed its first order for two DC-8s.
In April 1964, Air Afrique was given permission to link several African countries with the United States, and the Paris–Abidjan route began calling at Geneva on a weekly basis in November.
In 1965, the airline had two DC-8-50s in operation at the time, as well as three DC-4s and four DC-6s. The route to Paris started calling at Robertsfield that month, after already stopping at Dakar and Geneva. Passengers from RK began flying to the United States on Pan Am flights a month later.
By March 1975, RK had a workforce of 3,726. At the time, the carrier’s fleet included three Caravelles (one 10R and two 11Rs), one DC-3, five DC-8s (one DC-8-63CF, one DC-8-30, and three DC-8-50s), and a DC-10-30. A third DC-8-55F was purchased in August. In 1976, the second DC-10-30, ‘Cotonou’, joined the fleet. The airline introduced the Airbus A300B4-200 in 1979.
Reasons for Air Afrique’s Demise
Even though Air Afrique started a steady decline in the early 1980s, it was still regarded as the most reputable carrier in West Africa, and still one of Africa’s top five airlines several years later.
During the 80s and throughout the 90s, the airline’s decline began to show just as the ‘Africanization’ of the airline, i.e., the appointment of Africans to all top positions was completed. As RK started to operate the A310-300 in 1991, the carrier overbooked flights, seats reserved for member states were not charged, and schedules were missed without any explanation.
The End of a 41-Year Run
Alas, mismanagement and the decline in the aviation industry post-9/11 all contributed to the airline’s demise, which ended in early 2002 with its liquidation. Despite attempts to restart the airline by forming a new company, the efforts never came to fruition, and the airline was replaced by the short-lived Afrinat International Airlines.
The airline had a large network in Central and Western Africa, as well as flights to Europe and North America, when it was at its peak. Abidjan, Athens, Bamako, Bangui, Banjul, Brazzaville, Casablanca, Cotonou, Dakar, Douala, Geneva, Libreville, Lomé, Marseille, N’Djamena, New York, Niamey, Nouakchott, Ouagadougou, Paris, Point Noire, and Rome were among the 22 destinations on the scheduled network at the time of closure.
Featured image: A McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport in 1980. The airline received the first aircraft of the type in 1973. With registration TU-TAM and named ‘Cotonou’, this particular aircraft was the second DC-10-30 the company received, in 1976. Photo: Michel Gilliand – http://www.airliners.net/photo/Air-Afrique/McDonnell-Douglas-DC-10-30/1399873/L/, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17142988. Article sources: BBC, Timetableimages.com, The New York Times.