Central African Airways (CAA) was a supranational airline corporation serving as flag carrier for Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (present day Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi), which were organised as Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland from 1953 to 1963. Based in Salisbury, it offered an extensive network of domestic passenger and cargo flights, as well as international services to major cities in Southern and Central Africa, and a route to London. In 1960, CAA owned 15 aircraft and had 1155 employees.
Prior to World War II, commercial flights in Southern Rhodesia were offered by Southern Rhodesia Air Services (SRAS), whilst Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland had a joined airline company called Rhodesia and Nyasaland Airways (RANA). In 1946, it was decided to consolidate the airline operations of the three territories into one corporation, thus creating Central African Airways. Charles Warburton Meredith served as founding chairman, overseeing an initial fleet of fifteen de Havilland Dragon Rapide, five Avro Anson, one de Havilland Tiger Moth and one de Havilland Leopard Moth, all of which had previously been operated by the respective air forces. Originally, the airline was headquartered at Belvedere Airport (serving Salisbury, now demolished). Between 1948 and 1949, two Bristol Freighters joined the fleet.
To get larger and more modern aircraft, CAA purchased three Vickers VC.1 Viking and five de Havilland Dove, the first of which were delivered in 1947. The Vikings formed the backbone for mainline passenger flights until their withdrawal from service in 1958, most notably (since 1953) the "Colonial Coach Service", linking Salisbury, Ndola and Lusaka with London. The Doves were intended to be used for so called bush flights to poorly prepared landing strips, but proved unsuitable for the prevailing hot and high conditions. Therefore, from 1951 onwards, they were replaced by de Havilland Beavers, which had the desired STOL capabilities.
Under the leadership of Ellis Robins, who had taken over as chairman in 1947, another modernisation took place when the Vickers Viscount was introduced with CAA on 25 April 1956. With a seating capacity of 52, this was a significantly higher capacity than the 24 passengers of a Viking. In the same year, Salisbury Airport was opened, and CAA moved its hub and headquarters to the new facilities. The new airport attracted foreign airlines (most notably South African Airways), so that for the first time, Central African Airways experienced competitors on its international routes. As a result, the financial situation worsened and A. E. P. Robinson became new chairman in 1957.
No further growth of the route network occurred over the following years. With the Douglas C-47 Dakota, another aircraft type was introduced, which allowed for both passenger and cargo flights. During the 1960s, Central African Airways ordered two BAC One-Eleven-207 aircraft, but delivery was blocked by United Nations sanctions following UDI and one Douglas DC-6 which was leased from Alitalia between 1962 and 1965.
In the wake of the Decolonization of Africa and the African independence movements, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved on 31 December 1963. In 1964, the independent states of Zambia and Malawi were proclaimed in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. To recognise this move, Zambia Airways and Air Malawi were founded as wholly owned subsidiaries of Central African Airways, taking over the route network in the respective countries. In 1965, Air Rhodesia was founded as a third CAA subsidiary. Thenceforth, only the prestigious international flights from Salisbury to London and Johannesburg were operated under the Central African Airways brand. In 1967, Zambia Airways, Air Malawi and Air Rhodesia decided to become independent of each other, and CAA was disestablished.
Central African Airways (CAA) was a member of the Quadripartite agreements with South African Airways (SAA), East African Airways (EAA) and British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), thus allowing its passengers to be booked on any of the four airlines.