A new airport was officially opened in Seychelles, an Indian Ocean archipelago located 932 miles east of mainland Africa. Seychelles International Airport is near the Seychellian capital of Victoria on Mahé, which is the largest and most heavily populated of the archipelago’s 115 islands. A British colony when the airport made its debut, Seychelles achieved independence in 1976.
Queen Elizabeth II of England performed the inaugural duties for the airport. She and her husband Prince Philip had arrived in Mahé on that same day as part of a seven-week tour that also included visits to Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Mauritius, Kenya, and the Maldives. The introduction of the airport marked a key transportation milestone for Seychelles a little over three decades after the first aircraft to reach those islands landed there.
Even before the airport was formally dedicated, it had already been serving as a significant site for large-scale takeoffs and landings. According to a January 1972 New York Times article, “As an indication of the impact that jet flights have already made on the Seychelles, officials note that as recently as a decade ago the islands attracted only 400 tourists a year and that now the figure is just about 700 a month.”
During the course of the decade, the airport grew even larger as a pivotal force in making Seychelles much more accessible than before to mass tourism and establishing this industry as a mainstay of the country’s economy. One telling set of statistics for Seychelles: in 1978, its number of tourists (64,995) first exceeded that of the local population (62,150).