South African Airways was formed on 1 February 1934 following the acquisition of Union Airways by the South African government. Forty staff members, along with one de Havilland DH.60 Gypsy Moth, one de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, three Junkers F.13s and a leased Junkers F13 and Junkers A50 were among the acquired aircraft. Upon acquisition, the government changed the airline's name to South African Airways came under control of the South African Railways and Harbours Administration (now Transnet), charter operations started that year.
de Havilland DH.60 Gypsy Moth
de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth
On 1 February the following year, the carrier acquired Suidwes Lugdiens / South West Airways (now Air Namibia),which had since 1932 been providing a weekly air-mail service between Windhoek and Kimberley. During this time, South African ordered three Junkers JU 52 aircraft, which were delivered in October 1934 and entered service 10 days later.
Junkers JU 52
These aircraft were configured to carry 14 passengers, along with four crew. They enabled thrice-weekly Durban–Johannesburg services, with weekly services on the Durban–East London–Port Elizabeth–George/Mossel Bay–Cape Town route. On 1 July 1935, SAA moved its operations to Rand Airport as it became increasingly obvious that Johannesburg would become the country's aviation hub, which coincided with the launching of Rand–Durban–East London–Port Elizabeth–Cape Town services. From July the following year a weekly Rand–Kimberley–Beaufort West–Cape Town service commenced; in April 1936, all Rand–Cape Town services were taken over from Imperial Airways. A fourth JU 52 soon joined the fleet.
Orders for a further ten JU 52 aircraft, along with eighteen Junkers JU 86's and seven Airspeed Envoys (four for the airline and three for the South African Air Force) were placed. This raised the number of JU 52s to fourteen, although three older models were sold when deliveries of the newer JU 52s began. The airline experienced a rapid expansion during this time, but also suffered its first accident; one of the newly delivered JU 52s crashed after takeoff from Rand Airport in July 1937, with one reported fatality. From 1 February 1934 until the start of World War II, SAA carried 118,822 passengers, 3,278 tonnes of airmail and 248 tonnes of cargo, which were served by 418 employees. On 24 May 1940, all operations were suspended.
Junkers JU 86
Following the war, frequencies were increased and more routes were opened, which necessitated the conversion of three South African Air Force Envoys to passenger layout. These aircraft would prove to be unsuitable for passenger and cargo services and were returned to the SAAF after the arrival of the Junkers JU 86's. The main aircraft of SAA in the 1930s was the Junkers Ju 52. Other types used in the 1930s included eighteen Junkers Ju 86s, which served from 1937 onwards.
The slow growth continued during the 1940s, though the airline was effectively closed for the duration of World War II. In 1944 SAA began operating 28 Lockheed Lodestars to restart domestic services and by 1948 SAA was operating nineteen examples. These were withdrawn in 1955.
On 10 November 1945, SAA achieved a longtime company goal by operating a route to Europe when an Avro York landed in Bournemouth, England, after the long flight from Palmietfontein Airport near Johannesburg.
These were replaced by the Douglas DC-4 from 1946 onwards, which in turn was replaced by the Lockheed Constellation on international routes in 1950. Also of note in the post war era was the DC-3 Dakota, of which eight served with SAA, the last example being withdrawn as late as 1970.
From 1946, passengers and cargo carried increased, along with the size of SAA's fleet and staff. As the Skymasters arrived, out went the Avro Yorks, back to BOAC. Air hostesses were introduced in September 1946, at first on domestic routes, then on Springbok Services. The two de Havilland Doves were introduced at the end of the year; these aircraft were utilised on internal services for a short time, and were sold within a few years. The 28-seat Vickers Viking served the airline briefly, before being sold to British European Airways.