It was said at the beginning of the 1900s that fl ying machines had no future except in war-time. Aero clubs’ enthusiasts fl ew planes for sport and spectacle. The days were far off when commercial aviation would reach its maturity as very few people across
the world believed in civil aviation. So, when an Avro type aircraft took off from the “Vacoas aerodrome” – the Gymkhana grounds – with two passengers for a trip over Mauritius on 4 June 1922, it was like a marvel to wonder at. The newspaper, Le Cernéen, hailed what was said to be “fi rst passenger fl ight” as a “historic” event.
Indeed, excited crowds coming from various parts of Mauritius by trains chartered for that occasion thronged the Gymkhana grounds to watch the two-seater raising itself up to the sky. Christened “Maurice”, the aircraft took off amidst loud applause. On board, were the fi rst two paying passengers, the Colin brothers – Pierre and André. Air tickets were on sale at Rs 50 per passenger. The fl ight launching ceremony was attended by, M. E. B Denham, the offi cer administering the colony acting on behalf of Governor, Sir Hesketh Bell, who was on leave in England. M. Denham broke the bottle of champagne with a hammer knock and spread the liquor on the plane after which the plane took off on schedule at 14.30 hrs. Major Honett, the pilot, steered the aircraft towards Curepipe maintaining an altitude of 3000 ft. As the plane zoomed in the air and the engines’ noise reverberated, people rushed out of their dwellings with the eyes glue to the sky. Many climbed on housetops to admire as much as they could the fl ying object. A piece of advice was earlier given by the newspaper, Le Mauricien : “Si vous vous trouvez debout”, it wrote, “et que vous entendez fortement le moteur, couchez vous à la mème place, le bruit sera considérablement atténué “ Most probably used during the First World War by the British, the plane was dismantled and shipped to Port Louis from South Africa on the Koenigsberg which reached Mauritius in April 1922. It was reassembled at the Line Barracks where it was for a while kept on display for visitors against an entrance fee of Rs 2 per visitor. It performed a number of successful test fl ight in the course of which it dropped piles of prospectus advertising the “fi rst passenger fl ight” that was to take place on 4 June. The sponsors of that air project, the Club de Curepipe and the Auto Club scheduled fi ve half an hour demonstration fl ights on the inaugural day before darkness was to settle in. The acting Governor and the fi rst member for Port Louis, M. Edouard Nairac, were among those who fl ew over the island. “Voilà qui est fait”, wrote Le Cernéen the following day, “l’azure colonial a été à deux reprises violé si l’on peut dire… “ Local in scope as the venture then looked, and although in 1933, Paul Louis Lemerle and Maurice Samat with a single-engined aircraft carrying some mails from Reunion landed on a stretch of open ground at Mon Choisy, it was the Governor of Mauritius, Sir Bede Clifford, who for the fi rst time announced in 1939 in the Legislative Council the possibility of connecting within the least possible time, “in a week”, Mauritius to England with the establishment of air links. To that effect, said Sir Bede, in the course of his recent overseas travel, he held discussions with the British authorities and the then national carrier, Imperial Airways, the forerunner of BOAC. “I am pleased to inform you”, stated the Governor, “that my meeting met with a most encouraging response”. Sir Bede said that Mauritius had several attributes for the “promotion of tourists’traffi c” and these could be enhanced in a large measure by the development of air travel. “Air communication”, said the Governor, “seems to offer the best chance of advertising the attractions of Mauritius”. But British priorities changed with the outbreak of the World War 11. Mauritius was nonetheless gratified with an airfield at Plaisance. Initially designed to service British military aircraft, it has ever since been used as an aerodrome for commercial aircraft.