Celebrating 50 years of history and entering the A350-900 era

In 2017, Air Mauritius is celebrating half a century of history, a time where it is poised to use the experiences of the past to build its future. During the past two years the company has succeeded in building its reserves and restoring shareholder value. It has targeted record profitability for the year ending March 2017 and is using this renewed strength to make the massive investments that would be crucial towards securing its future.

With an order of 8 new state of the art aircraft and the retrofit programme due to be completed in June 2018, Air Mauritius will be able to offer best in class cabin products as from next year. This will enhance the airline’s competitiveness and enable it envisage the future with a measure of optimism.

The Air Mauritius story

Air Mauritius was incorporated on 14 June 1967 just a few months before the country became independent. Its founding fathers, pioneering entrepreneur Amédée Maingard de la Ville-ès-Offrans and the then Prime Minister Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam shared the vision that if Mauritius were to develop, it had to be connected to societies, markets and economies around the world. The national airline of Mauritius was therefore given a fourfold mission: To provide the vital trade and travel links with the rest of the world, to support tourism, to support the Export Processing Zone and to ensure its own development and economic independence. Amédée Maingard became the first Chairman and Managing Director of Air Mauritius in 1967 followed by Sir Harry Tirvengadum who was in office between 1978 and 1997.

Looking back at its 50 years of history, Air Mauritius has been faithful to this mission. To date the airline operates a fleet of 13 aircraft, connects Mauritius to 24 online destinations and around 100 more through its hubs at key airports on four continents. In spite of the opening of the skies in 2006, Air Mauritius remains the leading airline serving Mauritius providing around 2 million seats and carrying some 1.6 million passengers annually representing around half of the passenger traffic to and from Mauritius. The airline also carries more than 32,000 tons of cargo annually.

For 50 years, Air Mauritius has grown at the heart of the Mauritian economy and by providing crucial air connectivity the national airline of Mauritius has been a major catalyst for many sectors of the economy particularly the tourist industry.

Air Mauritius is a leading employer of the country, with around 3,000 people. It also adheres to the highest international standards of safety.

First steps

Air Mauritius had humble beginnings and started as a ground handling agent, but the airline’s pioneers were focused on flight operations which was the natural next step in the company’s development.

This ambition materialised in 1972 when the six-seater Piper Navajo leased from Air Madagascar, operated its maiden flight to Rodrigues. In 1973, Air Mauritius signed a wet agreement lease (leasing an aircraft with a provision for flight crew) with BOAC for a Super VC10 aircraft which enabled the launch of a long distance service to London via Nairobi. Two years later, in 1975, Air Mauritius replaced the Piper Navajo with a 16-seater De Havilland Twin Otter with which it reinforced its regional operations to Reunion and Rodrigues

Joining another league during the Boeing era

As from 1977, Air Mauritius joined another league of airlines when it acquired its first Boeing 707 from British Airtours. The National airline of Mauritius, then began long-haul services, with its own crew. The 80’s became the Boeing era. At the beginning of the decade, the company acquired a Boeing 707 from South African Airways and became a key player in the region. It started operating to Durban and Johannesburg, as well as a joint service with Air Madagascar on Antananarivo. In 1983, Air Mauritius added another Boeing 707 to its fleet leading to Rome, Zurich and Paris being added to its fast expanding network. By 1985, the Air Mauritius network had evolved and the airline started to play a major role in connecting Mauritius to the world. In June, Air Mauritius added a weekly service to Singapore. The same year it diversified and offered helicopter services following the acquisition of its first Bell Jet Ranger.

The record breaking Boeing 767 – The first aircraft owned by Air Mauritius

In 1988 Air Mauritius took delivery of its first brand new aircraft, two state of the art Boeing 767-200 ER (Extended Range) named ‘City of Port Louis’ and ‘City of Port Louis’. The 3B-NAL took off in April 1988, on a landmark flight that broke the world record for the longest non-stop flight by a twin-engine commercial aircraft when it covered the 14,044 kilometre flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, Mauritius in 16 hours and 27 minutes. The flight carried 39 people. With the arrival of the Boeing 767s the non-stop flight time between Mauritius and London was reduced to 11 hours. The remaining Boeing 707s were then sold.

Meanwhile Air Mauritius continued its expansion in Asia. It started a non-stop services to Kuala Lumpur and also to Hong Kong in collaboration with Cathay Pacific.

In the beginning of the 90’s, the network of Air Mauritius included Antananarivo, Bombay, Durban, Geneva, Harare, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Kuala Lumpur, London, Moroni, Munich, Nairobi, Paris, Réunion, Rodrigues, Rome, Singapore and Zurich. In late 1991, Perth was added to that network.

The Airbus era – Non-stop comfort and rapid growth

The 90’s marked the start of the Airbus era. Air Mauritius became the first airline in the southern hemisphere to fly the brand new Airbus A340, at the time, a state of the art new generation aircraft that combined operating efficiency and high levels of comfort. The aircraft were named after the Mauritian endemic birds. It was a way to show the airline’s commitment to the environment and the national conservation efforts. The first A340 was named “Paille-en-Queue”. The second A340 that joined the fleet in 1994, was named “Pink Pigeon”, and the “Kestrel” followed in 1995. At the start of the Airbus era, Air Mauritius started operations to Brussels and Cape Town followed by Vienna and Melbourne.

The network expanded to more than 30 destinations. The company’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP) was still the non-stop comfort it offered. By then, Air Mauritius had established its reputation as a world class airline and was the leading airline serving Mauritius and the region. Air Mauritius then became a Public Listed Company on the on the Stock Exchange of Mauritius.

In 1997, a fifth A340 joined the fleet and the airline reinforced its regional operations with the delivery of two ATR42. Air Mauritius also started operations to Seychelles during that year.

At the turn of the century, Air Mauritius had 2 000 employees and a fleet of 10 aircraft comprising of Boeing, Airbus and the ATR42. As from 2002, the ATR42s were replaced by ATR72s. A 340-300 Enhanced was acquired in 2005 and, in 2006, another one joined the fleet.

In 2009, the Air Mauritius fleet grew to 12 aircraft with the acquisition of an A330 in 2007 and another one in 2009. These twin engine aircraft enabled cost-efficient operation on medium haul flights.

Agility and resilience amidst a hostile environment

The turn of the century proved to be very challenging for the global airline industry. The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre changed commercial aviation for good. It impacted demand for air travel and the tight security measures and new airport infrastructure that had to be set up caused airport charges to increase dramatically. It impacted on the cost of tickets. The situation was compounded with the string of exogenous shocks that followed, the onslaught of SARS, chikungunya, dengue, earthquakes, the eruption of an unpronounceable volcano and political instability in the Middle East followed by successive cycles of economic downturns as from 2007, combined to make things very difficult for airlines.

The price of crude oil doubled from June 2007 to June 2008 to an all-time high of USD 144. This wreaked havoc throughout the industry sending several airlines to the brink of collapse. They took drastic measures like reduction of capacity causing massive job losses throughout the industry worldwide. With the crash Lehman Brothers on 15 September 2008, the price of fuel saw an unprecedented spectacular drop from USD 144 to USD 35 in just a few weeks. In 2007 and 2008, the global airline industry lost more than USD 20 billion worldwide, mainly in hedging. In the following years more than 80 airlines went bankrupt.

This unprecedented situation only highlighted the agility and resilience of Air Mauritius which adapted and which has now emerged as a robust airline looking towards the future with confidence. While many airlines around the world only managed to survive through massive cash injections, Air Mauritius adapted and emerged with its own internal funds.

Air Mauritius stood its ground and remained the leading airline serving Mauritius in spite of the opening of Air Access and intensifying competition in 2006. During the economic downturn as from 2008, causing a sharp slowdown in traffic from Europe, the airline embarked on a strategy to rebalance growth towards emerging markets. The operating model evolved from a point-to-point to a hub and spoke model with hubs in strategic locations served in collaboration with its airline partners.

Capacity was increased on the African and Asian markets and in 2011 Air Mauritius started operations to mainland China. In 2015 the company embarked on a growth strategy to overcome losses made during financial year 2014/15 mainly due to increasing costs and very high fuel prices. It launched direct operations to Singapore under the Air Corridor project. The idea was to provide a gateway in Asia for passengers from Mauritius and the region. A few months later, operations to Maputo and Dar-es-Salaam were started and a third ATR was acquired to strengthen regional operations.