The final flight of a Safair Operations Lockheed L-100 took place from Entebbe, Uganda at the end of last month, few people realised that the company behind FlySafair, Safair, has been a major player in aviation since 1965. Over the years the airline has flown a variety of different aircraft types on all kinds of missions in various environments.
Safair has always flown civilian aircraft, and while in the history of the company they have done work for some governments, it's always been in a civilian capacity. Over the years they have done a wide array of interesting work including the relocation of wildlife (Rhinos, Sharks and Manta Rays) for conservation purposes; taking researchers to Antarctica; search and rescue missions, and the treatment of oil spills to reduce the ecological and environmental impact of these disasters.
Safair has long been operating a very special aircraft type called the Lockheed Hercules, affectionately referred to as “the Hercs”. These amazing aircraft are powered by four propeller engines and can be used in a number of very interesting ways to execute specialised aviation and airlift services.
The wide bodies and rear cargo doors mean that these aircraft are great for transporting large, and often awkward, loads by air. Another major feature of these particular aircraft is their ability to operate off of shorter and irregular runways, meaning that they can be flown into areas that traditional jets would struggle to access.
Safair has been operating and maintaining Boeing aircraft since the early 1980s. Some of the work conducted over the years was on cargo operations, but a large part of the work was only on a lease basis. If you’ve been a semi-regular flier in South Africa over the past 15 years or so, there’s a very high chance that you’ve been aboard an aircraft that was owned and operated by Safair before – it may simply have been sporting a different colour on its tail.
Safair in recent times operated flights for a number of very familiar airlines including South African Airways, Air Namibia, Ryanair and 1Time. Safair was also the company that operated the first flights conducted by Kulula.com effectively helping to establish the airline in 2001.
Safair Operations as it is known today was established in 1965. At the time it was known as Tropair (Pty) Ltd and was a general aviation charter company. In 1970 the company name changed to Safair Freighters (Pty) Ltd when the company was purchased by Safmarine and the new entity began operations on 18 March 1970. Its primary client in the 1980s was the South African Defence Force. Many of us fondly remember being ferried to and from the Namibia-Angola border during the Bush War, some of the approaches were interesting, to say the least.
Safair is wholly owned by ASL Aviation Group Ltd based in Dublin, Ireland, a subsidiary of the Belgian group Compagnie Maritime Belge. Humanitarian Aid and Relief operations have always been Safair's "niche" market. Safair assists aid and relief agencies such as the United Nations, World Food Programme, and the International Committee of the Red Cross in delivering much-needed humanitarian aid to stricken regions on the African continent as well as other areas in the world where such assistance is required.
Until 2018 Safair was contracted to the Italian Antarctic Program (National Antarctic Research Program (PNRA)) to support science over the austral summer, flying Lockheed L-100-30 missions from Christchurch, New Zealand to Zucchelli Station in Terra Nova Bay, Antarctica. In 2007, Safair obtained its IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) approval.
Safari operations will continue to operate with their fleet of Boeing 737- 400s and 800s with large new contracts in Africa on the horizon.