Top 10: What is the oldest passenger aircraft in Africa?


While some plane spotters look for rarer planes at the world’s largest airports, others collect photographs of popular jets in commercial service across the globe.   

Africa boasts some of the oldest aircraft in the world. With an average fleet age of 17 years, the continent is a great place for plane spotters to catch a glimpse of ageing aircraft still in operation.  

AeroTime has compiled a list of 10 of the oldest aircraft to still be in passenger service in Africa. The jets included on this list will prove to be a tempting shot for any curious plane spotter. 

10. South African Airways Airbus A319-100    

Having made its first flight on December 20, 2004, South African Airways’ (SAA) Airbus A319-100, (a shorter version of the A320 passenger airliner) is one of the oldest planes to operate passenger flights across the African continent.  

According to Planespottes.com data, the A319-131 jet, registered ZS-SFJ, joined South African Airways’ fleet in early 2005, and was leased from Ireland’s RBS Aviation Capital.  

Since then, the plane, which is also known as the ‘BabyBus’ of the SAA’s fleet, has continuously served the flag carrier’s short-haul network. 

The ZS-SFJ airliner, which is equipped with a two-class configuration cabin, including 25 seats in Business and 95 seats for passengers of Economy Class, is considered the oldest A319-100 jet to be flown in Africa.  

This oldie but goodie could be an interesting shot for an aviation enthusiast keen to collect exclusive photographs.  

South_African_Airways_A319-132_ZS-SFJ

Bob Adams / Wikimedia Commons

9. Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767-300 

Ethiopian flag carrier Ethiopian Airlines also has some rare birds in its fleet. 

The 18.2-year-old Boeing 767-300 jet is a great example of well-maintained older aircraft continued to serve commercial passenger flights.  

The ET-ALJ is one of three older Boeing 767s in Ethiopian Airlines’ fleet. 

While the plane has spent almost two decades operating in the African airspace, its owner has never changed. According to Planespotters.com, the 767-300 has always belonged to a single owner since 2003, when it was rolled out of the Boeing facility in Everett in the United States. However, in August 2020, after being flown by Ethiopian Airlines for more than 17 years, the aircraft was leased to United Nations (UN). 

Following UN aviation standards for peacekeeping and humanitarian air transport operations rules, the plane retained its primary registration number. But the 767 was repainted in the appropriate UN livery.  

Currently, the jet is used to carry out various UN missions, including the rotation of peace troops across African countries. Spotters could try to capture the jet on a humanitarian mission in Burundi, Uganda, or Ethiopia. 

Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767-360-ER ET-ALJ

Kambui / Wikimedia Commons

8. Arik Air Boeing 737-700  

Much like Ethiopian Airlines, Nigerian carrier Arik Air also owns some time-honored aircraft.  

The majority of the carrier’s fleet consists of Boeing 737 and one of its oldest jets is a Boeing 737-700, which has been in commercial passenger operations for 21 years.  

Between 2001 and early 2008, the aircraft belonged to the now-defunct American carrier Aloha Airlines, which leased the jet from Irish American leasing company GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS). For a while, the plane held its primary registration N742AL. It was used to operate charter passenger flights from the carrier’s base in Honolulu, Hawaii to the mainland of United States and Canada as well as several Pacific Island destinations, such as the Marshall Islands, Cook Islands, American Samoa, and Kiribati. 

Boeing737-N742AL

MilborneOne / Wikimedia Commons

However, a few months after Aloha Airline ceased operations in 2008, the jet was returned to the lessor and was later handed over to its new owner in Africa. In 2009, the plane was repainted and received a new registration number, 5N-MJK. All Arik Air planes are named after locally significant people and places, and the 737-700 is no exception. The newcomer was named Ville de Niamey, after the city of Niamey, and started serving regional and mid-haul destinations. 

7. Air Algerie ATR 72-500     

Some turboprops could also be added to the list of the oldest planes still operating across Africa. One example is the Air Algerie ATR 72-500 turboprop-powered regional airliner.  

Initially, between 2002 and 2003, the plane belonged to the now-defunct Algerian airline Khalifa Airways and held the registration number F-OHGQ.  

In November 2003, it was sold to another Algerian carrier, Air Algerie, where it continues to fly today. The aircraft has spent 20.3 years in service. 

6. Tunisair Airbus A319-100                    

Tunisair, the national airline of Tunisia, operates a plane that is guaranteed to pique the interest of aviation enthusiasts. At 20.8 years old, the carrier’s Airbus A319-100 would be a welcome addition to any plane spotter’s collection.  

The passenger jet, registered TS-IMO, joined Tunisair in April 2001 and was given the name Hannibal. It was in consistent use across African and European routes until April 2021. Due to the global pandemic, the airline experienced a 70% drop in revenue, while the number of passengers across all activities fell by 80%, and transport revenues dropped by 77%. As a result, the carrier decided to ground some of its older, less efficient aircraft, including the TS-IMO. 

The plane was sent for temporary storage at Tunis–Carthage Airport (TUN), where it remained for a several months. However, on January 8, 2022, Tunisair decided to return the aircraft to passenger service. 

Tunis Air A319

Ken Fielding / Wikimedia Commons

5. Comair Boeing 737-800                        

South African carrier Comair, which is also the world’s largest regional airline, can also boast of having preserved an aircraft that has flown African travelers for more than two decades. 

The airline leased the 22.1-year-old Boeing 737-800 jet, the ZS-ZWP, from leasing company Merx Aviation in 2015. As Comair operated the aircraft for British Airways flights in Africa, the plane is painted in a BA livery. However, during its time spent in commercial aviation, the jet has amassed a long list of former owners. 

Comair B737-86N

Bob Adams / Wikimedia Commons

After its first flight in December 1999, the Boeing 737-800 was delivered to SunExpress, a joint venture between Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA), under a lease agreement with GECAS. At the time, it was registered as TC-SUA. But four years later, in 2004, the plane was handed over to a new owner, the former Spanish airline Futura International Airways, where it was repainted and re-registered as EC-IUC. 

Kulula B737-86N

Bob Adams / Wikimedia Commons

Then, the new Spanish owner twice leased the plane to former American carrier Ryan International Airlines, until it was withdrawn from use in September 2008. However, in 2009, GECAS retired the jet from service and ferried it to Shannon Airport (SNN) in Ireland for maintenance and a new livery as the aircraft was due to commence operations in Africa. 

SunExpress Boeing 737-86N

Aero Icarus / Shutterstock

A year later, in 2010, the jet was prepared for passenger flights in Africa and joined the fleet of South African low-cost airline Kukula.com, where it flew for four years until it was handed over to Comair.  

4. Tunisair Boeing 737-600                      

However, the TS-IMO is not the oldest plane operated by the Tunisian carrier. According to data from Planespotters.com, Boeing fans have another opportunity to spot a Boeing 737 aircraft that continues to operate safely despite its age. 

Having made its first flight in 1999, this unique Boeing 737-600 jet, the TS-IOK, has already spent 22.7 years in service. Although the plane is considered to be one of the oldest passenger jets to operate commercial flights across Africa, it has only ever been flown by Tunisair.  

However, the airline grounded the plane twice at Tunis–Carthage Airport (TUN). Between February 2017 and January 2018, the TS-IOK was stored for an unspecified reason. It was grounded for another year in July 2019.  

But aviation enthusiasts have been given another opportunity to witness the aircraft in flight as it was returned to commercial operations in September 2020.

Tunisair Boeing 737-600 TS-IOK

Aero Icarus / Wikimedia Commons  

3. Royal Air Maroc Boeing 737-800                     

Moroccan national carrier, Royal Air Maroc currently flies 59 passenger aircraft and is one of the largest African airlines by aircraft size. On average, these aircraft have spent 13 years in operation.  

One of carrier’s oldest planes is the Boeing 737-300 jet, registered as CN-RNJ. 

According to Planespotters.com, the aircraft was delivered to Royal Air Maroc in 1998 and has spent 23.6 years in service. The aircraft ranks number three on AeroTime’s list of oldest passenger planes in Africa. 

Anna Zvereva / Wikimedia Commons

2. Comair Boeing 737-400                   

How often do aviation geeks get to witness a 25-year-old aircraft taking to the skies?  

Comair’s Boeing 737-400 aircraft, registered as ZS-OAR, proves that older planes can perform perfectly, even if they have been in operation for two and a half decades. 

The 737-400 jet has already spent 26 years in passenger service. Having started life flying with Australian flag carrier Qantas Airways in 1996, the aircraft, which used to be called ‘Port Pirie’, was withdrawn from usage in 2013. 

Qantas Boeing 737-400 VH-TJZ

Aero Icarus / Wikimedia Commons 

At the time, the aircraft struggled to find a new owner. Instead, it was stored at Southern California Logistics Airport (VCV), in the United States. However, in 2014, Comair decided to include the aircraft in its fleet as part of its expansion in Africa and the ZS-OAR has continued to fly passenger flights ever since. 

1. The oldest passenger aircraft across Africa – another Comair Boeing 737-400 

And coming in at number one, it’s another Comair Boeing 737-400, the ZS-OAO. The oldest aircraft in Africa is a real visual treat for curious plane spotters eager to capture shots of exclusive passenger planes. 

The jet is a whopping 32.8 years old and has had a total of six owners before it was finally handed over to Comair. Initially, the plane belonged to Spanish carrier Air Europa, where it was registered G-BPKA, for a year between 1989 and 1990. Here, it served several European destinations.  

A year later, the aircraft was moved to the other side of the world, joining Malaysia Airlines in 1990 where it was re-registered as 9M-MJJ. However, the jet did not fly with the Malaysian flag carrier for long.  

In 1992, the 737-400 was repeatedly registered as G-BVNM by its new owner, the UK-based and now-defunct carrier, Dan-Air London. Much like the aircraft’s first two owners, Dan-Air did not fly the jet for long and it was eventually passed to Air One, a low-cost subsidiary of Alitalia, Italy’s former flag carrier.  

The jet joined the African aviation market in 2008 when it was leased by Comair from Irish leasing company ORIX Aviation, and re-registered as ZS-OAO.  

However, the lease agreement was terminated 2011. A year later, the jet was repainted and handed over to South African low-cost airline Kukula.com to operate domestic routes.  

The aircraft was only returned to its current owner Comair in 2013 after Kukula.com withdrew the plane from service. It was repeated once again, this time to the British Airways livery.  

Comair B737-4S3 ZS-OAO

Bob Adams / Wikimedia Commons

While the plane has been re-registered and repainted several times, as the oldest serving passenger jet on the continent the aircraft can still be considered a real gem for plane spotters. 





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