Full Spot

Aviation History in Mauritius  
1922 - First inland flight

The first plane to fly in the sky of Mauritius did not reach the island by air but by sea! It was a WW1 British biplane that was dismantled in England and taken by ship to Mauritius where it was reassembled. The region where this took place is known as Suffolk Close in the town of Vacoas, where the British admiralty had their headquarters. Today the grounds have been converted into an 18-hole golf course operated by the Gymkhana Club of Mauritius.
Thus was it that on 02 June 1922, Major F.W. Honnet, famous air pilot in South Africa, took off in the biplane from the Gymkhana grounds and made the first flight over the island. After operating a few more demonstration flights, the plane was dismantled and taken back to England by ship.

A WW1 biplane aircraft

The Gymkhana Club grounds
1933 - First regional flight from Reunion Island

Up to 1933, all the planes that flew to this part of the world stopped at Madagascar. One of the aviation pioneers in this region of the Indian Ocean was Maurice Samat from Reunion Island, which is about 120 kilometres off the west coast of Mauritius. He had been impressed by a demonstration flight in his island in 1929 and decided to go to France to earn his pilot license. As he was a well-off gentleman, he bought a small plane there, a Potez 43 matriculated F-AMGP. The plane, a single-engine tri-seater, was disassembled and embarked on the commercial ship Leconte de Lisle to be taken to Reunion where it was reassembled. The plane was christened by Monseigneur de Beaumont at La Possession with the name “Monique”, which was Samat's own daughter's name. He decided to train some other friends to become pilots and together they founded the Aéroclub Roland Garros. Activities for the club had to be created and after linking the two towns of St Denis and St Pierre in Reunion, they decided to make it to Mauritius.

Samat and his friend Paul Louis Lemerle chose the 20th of August 1933 to make the flight. Lemerle was sent to Mauritius to organize the event with their local liaison officer, Colonel Dehane. It was decided that the plane will land on a racecourse near the beach of Mon Choisy in the north. Colonel Dehane had to keep them informed of weather conditions and light a fire to indicate the landing place. But due to mechanical problems with the plane and adverse weather conditions, it was finally on 10th September 1933 that Samat and Lemerle left Gillot in Reunion to make the first flight to Mauritius.

The flight was a success; and to mark the event, a memorial, known as the Samat monument, was erected at the southern end of the field at Mon Choisy.

On the 9th of November 1933, Samat and Lemerle were joined by the Mauritian pilot Jean Hily to carry mail between Mauritius and Reunion. The planes used were two Potez 43 and one Caudron Renault C280 (a Caudron aircraft equipped with a Renault engine). Thus for the next few years, the field at Mon Choisy continued to be used as an airstrip for the rare airplanes that came to the island.

A Potez 43 aircraft

A Caudron Renault aircraft

The field at Mon Choisy. The Samat monument is at the far end

The Samat monument at Mon Choisy beach

Inscription on the Samat monument
The inscription on the memorial is in French and reads: “Aux aîles Françaises. Le 10 Septembre 1933, venus de l'île de la Reunion, Maurice Samat, pilote, et Paul Louis Lemerle atterirent ici”. A rough translation in English would give: “To the wings of France. On 10 September 1933, coming for Reunion island, Maurice Samat, pilot, and Paul Louis Lemerle landed here”.
1936 - First international flight from France

In December 1936 the French pilots LV Laurent, Joseph Tougé and Roger Lenier flew a Farman 199 monoplane, the F-ALGH Roland Garros, from Paris in France to Mauritius. The flight lasted ten days with stop-overs in Tunisia, Egypt, Djibouti and Madagascar. They left Mauritius on 20th January 1937 but reached France only on 11th February 1937, due to several problems with their aircraft.

The Farman 199 Roland Garros in Madagascar
1942 - Construction of Plaisance airport

Plaisance airport

During the second world war, Mauritius became a strategic location for the British in the Indian ocean. They operated Catalina hydroplanes for long reconnaissance missions in the region, landing in the bay of Mahebourg or Baie du Tombeau for refuelling. But soon it became necessary for them to have an airport on land to be used by the Royal Air Force.

They decided to build the airpport near Mahebourg, which was once the harbour of the island. Construction started in 1942 and the work completed in 1943. Since then the airstrip at Mon Choisy was abandoned, but the Samat monument is there to remind us of the role the field played in the early days of aviation in Mauritius.

The first landing at Plaisance airport was made on 24th November 1943 by an RAF Dakota.

A Catalina hydroplane

A Dakota aircraft
1945 - Air France reaches Mauritius

So far most of the flights arriving in Mauritius carried mail only. In February 1945, the Réseau de Lignes Aériennes Françaises Libres, which later became Air France, started a weekly commercial service on the route Madagascar - Reunion - Mauritius using a three-engine Junkers 52 aircraft which could carry fifteen passengers and a crew of three.

In 1947, Air France introduced a four-engine Douglas DC4 on the Paris - Plaisance route. The flight lasted two days with six stop-overs.

A Junkers 52 aircraft

The Air France Douglas DC4 aircraft
1948 - Qantas reaches Mauritius

In November 1948, Qantas operated the first flight from Sydney to South Africa with stop-overs at Perth, Coco Islands and Mauritius. The aircraft used was a Lancastrian and the journey lasted forty-two hours.

In 1952, Qantas started using Lockheed Constellation aircrafts on the same route.

A Lancastrian aircraft

The Qantas Lockheed Constellation aircraft
1962 - British Airways reaches Mauritius

In January 1962, the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), now British Airways, started sevice to Mauritius with Bristol Britannia aircrafts. It was a twenty-five-hour journey with stop-overs in Italy, Sudan, Kenya and Madagascar.

In October 1962, BOAC struck a grand première by using the first commercial jets, the De Havilland Comet 4, on the London-Plaisance route. The time for the journey was only seventeen hours.

The BOAC Bristol Britannia aircraft

The BOAC De Havilland Comet 4 aircraft
1967 - Air India reaches Mauritius

An Air India Boeing 707 aircraft

On 15th August 1967, Air India started a fortnightly flight from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Plaisance. Most probably they used Boeing 707 aircrafts.

1972 - Air Mauritius launches flight operations

Air Mauritius was set up on 14th June 1967 by a consortium made up of Air France, BOAC, Air India, the Government of Mauritius and the GSA of Air France and BOAC in Mauritius, Rogers and Co. Ltd. At first the company operated as a ground handling agent for other airlines. It was only in August 1972 that it flew its own aircraft, a Piper Navajo PA-31 leased from Air Madagascar. Flights were limited to nearby Reunion island and Rodrigues island, a dependency of Mauritius. The Navajo was replaced with a 16-seater Twin Otter that was acquired in 1975.

In 1973, it launched the Mauritius-London flight via Nairobi with a Vickers Super VC 10 aircraft leased from British Airways.

On 1st November 1977, a Boeing 707-420 leased from British Airtours became the first aircraft to make international flights under the company's colours.
And since then the company has never ceased to grow. Visit their site at https://www.airmauritius.com

The Piper Navajo PA-31 aircraft

The Twin Otter aircraft

A Vickers Super VC 10 aircraft

The Boeing 707-420 Aircraft
March 2018

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