Air Madagascar can trace its routes back to 1947 when the French airline TAI setup Société Nationale Malgache de Transports Aériens to feed its and Air France's own routes to what was then French Madagascar. The fleet during the 1950s consisted of a pair (later three) of DC-3s and 6 Dragon Rapides. Throughout the 1950s the island drifted peacefully towards independence with the Malagasy Republic being setup in October 1958 and full independence in June 1960.
Throughout the First Republic (1960-72) Madagascar continued to have strong ties to its former colonial master France. This manifested itself in continued strong support from French airlines even after the Madagascan government increased its share of ownership to 30.44% in May 1963. In August 1963 Jacques Alexandre, formerly of Air Afrique, tookover general manager duties and regional services to the Comores Islands began using ex Air France DC-4s (5R-MAD and MAE), which had been delivered in January and March. Further DC-4s would join throughout the 1960s and though 5R-MAD was written off in July 1967 killing 42 the other 5 all served into the early-mid 1970s.
Air Madagascar really entered the international stage in July 1964 after an agreement was reached with Air France to lease one of its 707-328s to operate the Paris via Djibouti route. The aircraft, F-BHSK, wore Air Madagascar colours (note the small hawk and palm logo on the lower forward fuselage) but was operated with an Air France crew (basically a wet-lease). This continued until April 1967 when the turbojet was replaced by another ex-Air France 707, but this time a turbofan 328B, which had been on lease to Air Afrique as TU-TXI, and later M, for about a year.
The aircraft didn't take up its Madagascan registry 5R-MFK until July 1973. By then the 707 routes were a thrice weekly connection to Paris via Djibouti and either Rome or Marseille as well as a much shorter Antananarivo-Mauritius-St Denis service. The route map throughout the 1970s stayed stable with the only addition being the substitution of Nairobi for one of the Djibouti stopovers.
Regional routes operated by the DC-4s in the 1960s included Reunion, Comores and Johannesburg. By 1968 the fleet consisted of 1 707-328B, 2 DC-4s, 6 DC-3s and a single Nord 262 (fitted out as an executive model), 3 Dragon Rapides, 2 Beech 18s and various Pipers. Another DC-4 arrived that year to replace the crashed 5R-MAD but a step-change in capability didn't occur until September 1969 when the airline's first 737-200 (5R-MFA 'Boina') was delivered. Initially the aircraft's utilisation was shared with SAA (who also undertook its maintenance). Flown out to Johannesburg on a Saturday it returned to Madagsacar on a Thursday. It did however allow regional routes to Dar es Salaam and Nairobi to be opened up and replaced DC-4s on some domestic services in 1972. Gradually the 737 tookover DC-4 routes to places like the Comores and in December 1972 a sistership, 5R-MFB 'Sambirano', arrived.
The 1970s was not a happy time in Madagascar. The pro-French administration of President Philibert Tsiranana was overthrown in 1972 by a militay coup. In the next three years there were a series of military leaders (one of whom was assassinated). There was a political alignment with a socialist-marxist doctrine and the Eastern-Bloc which allied to fallout from the 1973 oil crisis caused the collapse of the nation's economy. The Second Republic (1975-93) faced bankruptcy in 1979 and was forced to accept anti-corruption and free market conditions set by the IMF and World Bank before it was bailed out. Services to South Africa were suspended due to Apartheid however the international bailout did allow Air Madagascar to re-equip. This re-equipment included HS-748s but more importantly renewal of long-haul services with a single massive widebody.
The airline's single 707 was returned to Air France where she became F-BLLB. By 1983 she was with Libyan Arab Airlines where she became 5A-DLT. At the end of 1986 her last operator was ZAS Airlines of Egypt as SU-DAJ but after only six months she was stored at Davis Monthan Air Force Base for use in the KC-135 spares programme.
We'll continue the airline's story in part 2.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: