Exploring the Cultural Tapestry: African Airlines’ Naming Traditions for Their Aircraft  

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No two aircraft are alike, and for some African airlines, individualizing each airplane goes beyond registration numbers and manufacturing details. The names given to aircraft reflect a rich tapestry of African culture, celebrating landmarks, historical figures, wildlife, and more. Individual aircraft and special liveries like South African Airways “2012 Olympic Athletes” jet will not be counted since they are one-off aircraft.

Ethiopian Airlines: Long Haul Aircraft Honor African Landmarks

Ethiopian Airlines, based in Addis Ababa, has embraced the practice of naming their long-haul fleet after African landmarks, people, and international monuments. The tradition began with the Boeing 777-200LR “The Blue Nile” in 2010, paying homage to Africa’s longest river. Subsequent aircraft, including Boeing 787 Dreamliners, have taken on names like “The Rift Valley,” “The Mount Kilimanjaro,” and “The Sahara.”

However, regional and smaller jet aircraft like the Bombardier Dash 8 and Boeing 737-800 will continue to go unnamed. While the short and medium haul fleet remains nameless, some of ET’s Boeing 777F cargo aircraft with aircraft like ET-ARJ and ET-ARK have been named The Amazon and Mandela (Pharma Wing sticker), respectively. Name placement is also different on Ethiopian, as the airline applies their names to the rear of the jet, with some names behind the wind below the passenger windows and other aircraft having names under the windows just before the rear boarding door. Ethiopian continues the its tradition with the Airbus A350, with the first two airplanes being named Simien Mountains and Bale Mountains while the newest Airbus A350-900 named “Adwa”, the historic place where the great battle (the battle of Adwa) against colonialism that took place in 1886.

Tunisair: People and Places

Tunisair, like many other African carriers, draws inspiration from people and places when naming their aircraft. Tunisian cities, such as Tunis, Carthage, and Tozeur Nefta, grace the Boeing 737-600s and Airbus A330-200s in their fleet. The airline also pays tribute to influential Tunisian figures, including poets, authors, and political leaders, such as Aboul-Qacem Echebbi, Tahar Haddad, Farhat Hached, and Habib Bourguiba.

While Tunisair has made a habit of naming all their aircraft, this was not always the case. Some of the airline’s previous aircraft, including the fleet of McDonnell-Douglas DC-10s and Boeing 737-200s, were all left nameless. However, other aircraft fleets such as the Airbus A300s and Boeing 737-500s were given names and themes that are similar to those that are on the current fleet. Tunisair aircraft names appear in both English and Tunisian, with the English writing on the port side and Tunisian writing on the starboard side, with both appearing in either black or red under the cockpit window.

Arik Air: Religious and Political Figures

Arik Air, based in Nigeria, predominantly names its fleet after religious figures, with aircraft like “Joseph of the Holy Family,” “John Paul II,” and “Queen of Angels.” However, political figures and city names also make their mark, with aircraft named “Sultan of Sokoto,” “City of Benin,” and “Ville de Niamey.” While not all aircraft in Arik Air’s fleet bear names, the medium and long-haul retired aircraft, including the notable Airbus A340 named after Captain Bob Hayes, have been given this honor.

However, Arik Air didn’t name all their aircraft, with previous airframes like the CRJ-200s and Fokker 50s going nameless during their time in the Nigerian skies. However, the medium and long haul aircraft that have been retired were named. Some aircraft names have transferred planes with Sultan of Sokoto previously appearing on a leased Airbus A330 which was removed from the fleet in 2011.

Air Peace Honors Family

Meanwhile, across the country, Air Peace, a privately owned Nigerian airline, has taken aircraft naming to a more personal level. The carrier pays homage to its executives and their family members who contribute to the airline’s success. This personalized approach strengthens the familial ties within Air Peace and reflects the airline’s commitment to honoring those who play significant roles. The airline first E195-E2 aircraft is named after Ms. Nnenna Onyema, the airline’s Legal Advisor & Commercial Manager, while the airline’s third Embraer 195-E2 aircraft which is named after Mrs. Helen Ekwusi Onyeama, the wife of Barrister Allen Onyeama, Chairman of Air Peace. The company’s Boeing 777-200LR named “Ojochide,” meaning “God is my protector/guide” in Nigerian, Air Peace showcases a deep appreciation for family and the shared dedication to the airline’s growth.

Air Algerie has named some of their Airbus A330s and Boeing 737s after cities such as Mers el Kebir and Monts des Beni Chougrane, these aircraft only make up nine of the airline’s 56 aircraft.

TAAG Linhas Aereas de Angola Airlines fleet of five Boeing 737s and eight Boeing 777s are named after notable Angolan symbols and cities with names like Luena (an Angolan town), Calandula (a plant), Kifangondo (a national landmark) and 11 de novembro (the date of Angolan independence).

However, that’s hardly it as far as fun airplane names go.

Dreamliners named Maasai Mara and Serengeti plains

In a tribute to the breathtaking beauty and wildlife treasures of East Africa, Kenya Airways has named two of its Dreamliners “Maasai Mara” and “Serengeti.” These names pay homage to the iconic Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, which together form one of Africa’s most diverse and spectacular ecosystems often referred to as the “world cup of wildlife.”

A330 neos named after mountains

Uganda Airlines, with a deep appreciation for the natural wonders that define its homeland, has bestowed a tribute of grand proportions upon its two A330neo aircraft. The airline names these aircraft after two iconic peaks, “Mount Ruwenzori” and “Mount Elgon.” These majestic mountains hold immense significance in Uganda’s cultural and geographical landscape, and now, they take to the skies as symbols of the nation’s soaring aspirations.


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