Aviation was different during the 1970s. Almost every country had its own national airline and route permissions were closely guarded by the state that owned them (this is still the case in most of Africa). National carriers did not necessarily have to operate profitable routes and were instead as much tools to fly the flag of the country, keep open vital air links (usually to their former colonies) and sometimes to be the playthings of dictatorial and corrupt administrations. One of the fringe benefits of this state of affairs for spotters, was that they usually went out of their way to acquire widebodies for prestige reasons even if their routes couldn't support them.
Madagascar was effectively bankrupt by 1979, that is until it was bailed out by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. What would you do if you suddenly found yourself flush with cash - why you'd buy a 747 wouldn't you? As related in part 1 Air Madagascar had been operating a limited international network since 1961 primarily linking the Madagascan capital Antananarivo with Paris via multiple stops in Djibouti and sometimes Rome and Marseille. This route could at least probably viably support a 747 and so the arrival of a single example on January 26, 1979 certainly isn't the worst kind of excess from an African national carrier.
The aircraft, a series 2B2B Combi, was registered 5R-MFT 'Tolom Piavotana' (which means Revolution in English) and fitting with its primary destination throughout its career it was maintained by Air France at Paris. The network was actually expanded with direct routes to Zurich in the 1980s plus Munich and Rome begun in 1996.
A first attempt at privatisation of Air Madagascar was begun in 1997 and in January 1998 it was announced that the 747 would be phased out to be replaced by more usefully sized 767s. The first arrived on lease in March 1998. She was followed by another in April 1999, however the private consortium, which included Air France, pulled out when the Central Bank of Madagsacar defaulted on lease payments to Exim Bank for the old 747. She was removed from service, after nearly twenty years, and though originally to be converted to a freighter with MK Airlines the aircraft was instead stripped for parts and broken up from 2004.
The airline has struggled on throughout a turbulent 2000s, largely devoid of highlights (aside from a nice rebranding), and now operates a pair of A340s leased from Air France. It has however remained operational as one of the few surviving African national airlines and the Traveling Palm continues to fly proudly from its tail.
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: