When Egypt and Syria joined forces to create the United Arab Republic in 1960 their respective national airlines – Syrian Airways and Misrair – were merged forming United Arab Airlines.
The Egyptian carrier Misrair was founded in 1932 as Misr Airwork and this became Misr air SAE in 1949. It was wholly Egyptian owned and was based at Cairo from where it operated to destinations in Europe, Africa and Asia. Syrian Airways was founded in 1946 and was based in Damascus from where it served the locality, other Middle East countries, Europe and North Africa.
Misrairs interest hardened after de Havilland demonstrated the Comet 4 to Misrair in Cairo when on route for Hong Kong on a pre-service proving flight. There had been persistent reports that the Egyptians were interested in the aircraft so the stop-over at Cairo was organised.
Following this Misrair sent a delegation to Hatfield to discuss the purchase of one or two Comet 4s. Initially reports would not be confirmed by de Havilland but eventually it was announces that an order had been placed – valued at £3 million – for two aircraft plus spares.
However the deal depended on the outcome of some financial negotiations that were to begin in Cairo in January 1960.
Present was the President of the World Bank and the meeting had been called in a effort to find a way to allow the release of Egypts blocked sterling assets (worth £80 m) following Britains dispute with Egypt which culminated in the Suez Crisis. It was interesting that despite political differences Misrair thought that, on technical grounds, the Comet was without doubt the best aircraft for their purposes.
The carriers name was changed to Egyptair on 10th October 1971.
U.A.A. ordered a large fleet of Comets – nine in total – but this was because 5 aircraft were lost in accidents! U.A.A. always purchased new aircraft and never leased any Comets. It was said that the Comet sold itself as the ‘perfect aircraft for the job’. It was designed to operate from runways set at high altitude and generally experiencing high ambient temperatures – typical of conditions to be found throughout the U.A.A network.
When in 1961 U.A.A. ordered two more 4Cs (contract signed in Cairo on December 9th for delivery in April 62) it took the total value of their Comet purchases to £8 million.
Because of accidents U.A.A. only succeeded in operating – for any length of time – four aircraft. These were registered SU-ALL, ALM, AMV and ANC and were all configured to seat 96. U.A.A. performed their own engine maintenance at their Cairo base and were, in fact, to be the last Comet operator on the African continent. Crew training too took place in Cairo.
SU-ALL had been delivered in June 1961, SU-ALM in July 1961, SU-AMV in April 1962 and SU-ANC in December 1962.
The Comets replaced Viscounts and expanded U.A.A’s routes to Bombay, Karachi, Frankfurt and on the longer African routes. Towards the end they operated on internal routes (Luxor , Aswan) and on the shorter external routes, for example, to Benghazi, Amman, Damascus (from Cairo), Athens and Baghdad.
Of the five losses it was reported that not one was due to pilot error – all were due to ‘natural causes’. The aircraft lost in accidents were: SU-ALC – which was delivered in June 1960 – was lost 10 Km from Tripoli Airport, Libya in January 1971. Another June 1960 delivery was SU-ALD which was lost 15 miles from Bombay in July 1963.
SU-ALE was delivered in December 1960 and lost when it crashed after takeoff from Munich in February 1970. The Comet had been obliged to make an emergency landing when fire broke out in the port wing shortly after takeoff. Eight passengers were injured slightly and four were treated in hospital for minor injuries. The aircraft was carrying 14 passengers and a crew of ten and was en route for Athens and Cairo. Before the takeoff it had been delayed at the airport for two hours. It came down some 400 yds. from the runway and only 150 yds. from suburban homes. Sabotage was quickly ruled out. Visibility was poor at the time and the runway was covered with slush and melted snow, condition that were similar to those that led to the loss of the BEA airliner at Munich in 1958.
SU-AMW joined the fleet in April 1962 but was struck by lightning and lost into the jungle 100 Km from Bangkok in July 1962. SU-ANI survived in service from February 1964 until in crashed at Addis Ababa in January 1970.
Gradually the remaining Comets were to be phased out and it was planned to have the withdrawal completed by April 1976 when they were to be replaced with Boeing 737s. One proposal was to convert the Comets to carry freight but the doors would not have been big enough and the necessary modifications would have been too expensive.
In U.A.A. hands the Comets got a hammering! Surviving aircraft required a complete refurbishment by Marshalls of Cambridge where they were gutted and fitted with new seats and interiors!
To sum up U.A.A. accidents-
SU-ALC crashed 10 Km from Tripoli Airport, Libya at Ben Gashir on the 2nd January 1971.
SU-ALD crashed on the 23rd December 1960 into the sea while en route Bangkok-Bombay some 15 miles from Bombay.
SU-ALE was lost on the 9th February 1970 when takeoff was abandoned at Munich the aircraft plunging into a field.
SU-AMW was lost 100 Kms N/E of Bangkok into jungle on the Khao Yai Mountain, Thailand on the 19th July 1962.
The last civil Comet (4C) SU-ANI belonging to U.A.A. crashed on the 14th January 1970 when a wing struck the ground when landing at Addis Ababa.