A few clicks of the mouse and information on scheduled passenger flights throughout Africa is at our fingertips. Back in the 1920s, there was nothing scheduled or routine about it. This was the preserve of aviation pioneers as they opened skyways and visited countries that had rarely even seen aircraft, let alone had runways able to welcome them.
From 1930, as the major European airlines moved to establish regular flights through Africa, Shell Aviation supported this expansion by developing the fuel and oil supply depots at intermediate and destination airfields to help grow the nascent route network.
However, Shell’s role went far beyond setting up and maintaining the many refuelling stops the aircraft of the day needed to transit such distances. Flying the day’s high-performance aircraft, such as the 3-seater, long-range, high-wing de Havilland DH80 Puss Moth, its team of experienced aviators criss-crossed the continent, taking thousands of aerial photographs and making detailed maps of flight routes and remote landing sites.
This information was invaluable in helping airlines to develop international and intercontinental flight routes, identify suitable landing sites, provide weather reports and even information about local customs.
From 1930, an established network began to emerge and routes that had previously only been flown by explorers started to see regular scheduled flights. The most important was the Cape Route with aircraft flying from Europe to Cairo and then via East Africa, transiting Sudan and Kenya, to Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Today, Shell provides fuel and lubricants to airports in more than 60 countries around the world, refuelling over 2 million aircraft each year, or one every 14 seconds.
R. van Egmond and A. Westra, Shell and aviation. The story of more than a century of collaboration. Shell International B.V., 2019, p. 37-38.
H. Scanlan, Winged Shell. Oil Company Aviators 1927-1987, p.32-52.
Shell historical archives.