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We begin our story in 1921. Most of us reading this series were not born at the time, but a significant moment in Fiji’s aviation history took place in Suva Harbour that year.
A strange craft was lifted off the deck of a freighter and placed in the sea. To the bystanders and the fishermen around Suva Harbour the placing of a boat in the water beside a ship was not unusual.
However this boat or ‘waqa’ – as the iTaukei people would say – was very strange indeed. One can only guess what someone will say ‘Sa! Na waqa sa vuka’ (the boat flies). This occasion on July 16, saw the first flight of an aeroplane in Fiji; it would fly around Viti Levu and Vanua Levu for the next 10 days surveying likely places for flight operations from the air.
The aircraft was a Channel I four-seater Flying Boat registered G-NZAI and it was flown by A C Upham.
The aircraft belonged to the Walsh Brothers and Dexter Limited, New Zealand Flying School, Auckland. The visit was sponsored by the Fijian Government to look at a ‘Flying Boat Mail Service’ around the islands.
The seaplane returned to New Zealand after its successful visit on July 28, that same year.
As a member of the Legislative Council, Harold Gatty, who almost wholly owned Katafaga Estates, had knowledge of the Fijian Government’s need for an air service.
He was also aware of what subsidies were likely. Gatty put to Government in 1951, through Katafaga Estates, the formation of Fiji Airways.
It was accepted with commitments for runways in Labasa and Savusavu. A permit was granted for five years.
The first aircraft was obtained in 1951 from the United Kingdom and shipped to Fiji. The history of this plane was long and interesting.
It was registered in Fiji as VQ-FAL (msn 6707). Formally G-ALWP built in 1934, it was one of the original “King’s Flight” aircraft when the Royal Air Force Unit was first formed.
So began Fiji Airways on Saturday September 1, 1951.