Air Rhodesia

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Air Rhodesia
Air Rhodesia logo.png
IATA ICAO Callsign
RH RH Rhodesia
Founded 1 September 1967
Hubs Salisbury
Focus cities Bulawayo, Kariba
Fleet size 13
Destinations Domestic, South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique
Headquarters Salisbury Airport
Salisbury, Rhodesia
Key people Mervin Eyatt, Ken Greager

Air Rhodesia was the national airline of Rhodesia. Its head office was located on the property of Salisbury Airport in Salisbury.[1]

It was formed as a subsidiary of Central African Airways (CAA) in June 1964, but became an independent corporation on 1 September 1967. Air Rhodesia flew internal routes to Buffalo Range, Bulawayo, Fort Victoria, Kariba, and Victoria Falls. During the 1970s the airline had international flights to Johannesburg and Durban in South Africa, Beira, Vilanculos and Lourenço Marques in Mozambique, and Blantyre in Malawi.

Its mainstay aircraft were Vickers Viscount 700D turboprops and the Boeing 720 jetliners, with three of the latter being successfully purchased in April 1973 in spite of sanctions against the Rhodesian government. Following the renaming of the country, it became known as Air Zimbabwe Rhodesia in 1979, and then reformed as Air Zimbabwe in 1980.



CAA was formed on 1 June 1946 as a joint airline of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Nyasaland (now Malawi), with 50 percent, 35 percent and 15 percent of its share capital being held by the governments of those three countries respectively.[2] CAA started operating with a mixture of former Southern Rhodesia Air Services (SRAS) aircraft, but soon took delivery of five De Havilland Doves and three Vickers Vikings. Services were steadily expanded to cover a route network extending as far north as Nairobi and as far south as Johannesburg, as far east as Blantyre and as far west as Maun in Bechuanaland (now Botswana). In August 1948 CAA inaugurated the first air freight service in Africa.[3]

By 1954 CAA had expanded to cover routes as far afield as London. In 1963 the federation that joined the three shareholders of CAA was dissolved as Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland prepared to attain their independence the following year, becoming Zambia and Malawi respectively. While Malawi and Zambia expressed their wish to operate their own airlines this would prove troublesome. Because CAA's core operations were mostly based in Southern Rhodesia, including the engineering base, stores and most of the infrastructure and personnel needed to support the airline, only minor rectification work on an aircraft could be attempted away from Salisbury. In December 1963 an accord was reached that provided at least a temporary solution to the problem. CAA would remain in existence but be responsible to a higher authority consisting of transport ministers from the three governments. Separate subsidiaries of CAA were formed to operate in each country: Air Malawi Ltd, Zambia Airways Ltd and Air Rhodesia (Pvt) Ltd. The administrative arrangements that existed between the three companies proved to be profitable and efficient for all three companies. On 11 November 1965, the Rhodesian Government made formal the Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain. Shortly afterwards sanctions were imposed on Rhodesia by Britain and independent African states including Malawi and Zambia; this closed down almost all international flights operating through Rhodesia, with the exception of Portugal's TAP and South African Airways. Relations between the three sister companies became strained and in 1967 a split was agreed.

Air Rhodesia Corporation[edit]

A Vickers Viscount of Air Rhodesia at Bulawayo Airport in the early 1970s.

Air Rhodesia Corporation came into being on 1 September 1967 while Rhodesia was under international isolation. Unlike Zambia, Malawi maintained 'cool' relations with Air Rhodesia Corporation. As a result, flights between Salisbury and Blantyre were maintained and soon increased, in its first year of operation Air Rhodesia posted a profit. Air Rhodesia's aircraft were now repainted in a livery consisting of a white top side, with dark blue and light blue 'cheatlines' on the fuselage sides; sloping dark blue and light blue stripes also appeared on the vertical fin, The controversial 'twiggi bird', a highly stylised representation of the Zimbabwe Bird, was superimposed on the two stripes on the fin. Criticised in some circles as being scarcely recognisable as a Zimbabwe Bird, and even being likened to an Arab dhow under sail

The Jet Age: 1973–1978[edit]

An Air Rhodesia Boeing 720 at Salisbury Airport in 1977.

In spite of the challenges brought about by sanctions and the deteriorating political environment within Rhodesia, Air Rhodesia continued to perform well. It increased its profits between 1969–1970, introduced services to Kariba, and upgraded the Dakota services to Wankie to the Viscount. Additional revenue was earned by loaning surplus aircrew to other airlines. As competition from jet airplanes of its competitors started to affect the performance of Air Rhodesia, it became obvious that jet aircraft were needed for international services. The airline clandestinely acquired its first jets. They arrived on the evening of 14 April 1973 during the Easter holiday under a shroud of secrecy. The aircraft were three Boeing 720-025 jetliners which had initially been purchased new by the original Eastern Air Lines, a U.S. air carrier based in Miami, and had then been acquired by Calair. They began service in November 1973 as fuel prices increased by 35 percent because of the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East. Soon the Bush War was escalating sharply, and staff shortages resulting from military call-ups were adding to the airline's difficulties. In 1975 when Mozambique was granted its independence, Air Rhodesia services to Blantyre and Beira were banned when Rhodesian aircraft were prohibited from overflying Mozambican territory in March 1976. Until 1979, the airline's only external services would be to Johannesburg and Durban.

The Bush War[edit]

On 3 September 1978 an Air Rhodesia Viscount Flight 825 VP-WAS was shot down near Kariba by nationalist guerrillas. Only eight people survived the crash and the subsequent massacre by guerilla fighters. The following year on 12 February an Air Rhodesia Viscount Flight 827 VP-YND was also shot down in the same area, killing all on board. All remaining Air Rhodesia Viscounts were quickly painted in a special yellowish-green, matt paint, as a protective measure. All shiny metal surfaces on the Viscounts, including propeller blades and spinners, were painted over. Special engine guards were designed and fitted to each engine nacelle to prevent heat-seeking missiles from locking on to the hot jet pipe. This significantly increased the fuel consumption of the aircraft. Meanwhile, due to the war, passenger numbers continued to plummet as fuel prices continued to soar.

Air Zimbabwe Rhodesia: 1979[edit]

When Rhodesia came under majority rule as Zimbabwe Rhodesia, Air Rhodesia became "Air Zimbabwe Rhodesia". In anticipation of the new political truce bringing about stability and new opportunities, Air Zimbabwe Rhodesia ordered construction of a large new hangar in 1979. Thoughts immediately turned to reopening routes to destinations long closed to the airline as a result of sanctions.

Air Zimbabwe: 1980–2012[edit]

After independence in Zimbabwe, Air Zimbabwe Rhodesia was renamed "Air Zimbabwe", which went bankrupt in 2012 before being resurrected in 2013.


Incidents and accidents[edit]

  • Vickers Viscount, Flight RH825, 3 September 1978 – shot down by a Strela missile near Kariba Dam by the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA). 18 of the 56 passengers survived the crash, but ten of them were brutally hacked to death on the ground by a group of ZIPRA fighters.[4]
  • Vickers Viscount, Flight RH827, 12 February 1979 – also shot down by a Strela missile near Kariba Dam by ZIPRA; all 59 people on board died.


  1. ^ "World Airline Directory". Flight. 95 (3135): 557. 10 April 1969. Retrieved 1 January 2016. Head Office: Salisbury Airport, Salisbury, Rhodesia. 
  2. ^ "World Airline Survey – Air Rhodesia Corporation". Flight. 93 (3083): 519. 11 April 1968. Retrieved 21 April 2011. 
  3. ^ "Airline History From 1996". Sky Host. 11 April 1996. Retrieved 11 December 2011. 
  4. ^ Daly, Ron Reid; Stiff, Peter (1982). Selous Scouts: Top Secret War. Galago. ISBN 0-620-05771-8. 
  • Peter Bridger et al., Encyclopaedia Rhodesia (College Press Pvt Ltd, Salisbury, Rhodesia, 1973), p. 20