90 Years Old: South African Airways Celebrates A Milestone

South Africa’s national carrier is one of the oldest airlines in the world. Commencing services on February 1, 1934, South African Airways turns 90 years old today. While the last few years have been very turbulent for the airline, it has a rich history that has served many generations.


Over the last nine decades, the airline has operated some of the world’s most iconic aircraft, flying on the most popular international routes. As the airline celebrates 90 years, let us explore some of the aircraft it has operated and where they are now.


South African Airways Museum

Situated at Rand Airport (QRA), about 15 mi (24 km) from Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport (JNB) is the South African Airways Museum Society. It is home to several ex-SAA aircraft, airline artifacts, memorabilia, and other planes that helped shape the history of South African aviation. I had the chance to visit the institution last month.


The SAA Museum Society was founded in 1986 by individuals within the airline and other interested parties to preserve SAA’s history and showcase the development of the country’s aviation sector over the decades. The aircraft on static display are available for public viewing and are used for educational purposes and small functions like conferences, board meetings, and weddings.


South African Airways’ Boeing 747s

The airline’s history began 90 years ago when the South African government took over Union Airways and renamed it South African Airways. It honored its predecessor’s order for three Junkers JU52 aircraft, delivered in October 1934 and entered service ten days later. While the airline operated several other revolutionary aircraft, one of the most notable to join its fleet was the Boeing 747.


Boeing 747-200

On November 6, 1971, SAA took delivery of its first jumbo jet – a Boeing 747-200, registration ZS-SAN. It is nicknamed “Lebombo,” a derivative of the Zulu word “Ubombo,” meaning big nose. It is one of the two 747s on static display at the museum. It rolled out of production in August 1971 and was delivered to SAA with a spare engine under the left wing. It served in the airline’s fleet for nearly 32 years, accumulating 107,689 flight hours across 20,304 cycle

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