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Sure, the lower prices are good, but Africa passengers will pick Fastjet if it can overcome regional challenges with safety and reliability.
The low-cost model pioneered by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou that rocked Europe’s traditional airlines is spreading across Africa. Tickets went on sale last week for the first flights on Fastjet, the latest brainchild of the Greek entrepreneur, which will start flying from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania at the end of the month for prices starting at 32,000 Tanzanian shillings (£13) – plus the inevitable baggage charges and taxes.
While Fastjet has yet to secure the final paperwork for its transnational routes, it expects to be selling Kenyan and Ugandan destinations alongside its regional service within weeks, and ultimately aims to grow into a pan-African low-cost airline.
Fastjet’s chief executive, Ed Winter, a former director of easyJet under Haji-Ioannou, said: “It takes a long time in Africa to work beyond the bureaucracy and the politics, but the vision is a network across Africa.”
The business has merged with Fly540, an airline that will gradually disappear as Fastjet grows, but gives it assets in Angola and Ghana as well as east Africa. Broader expansion will mean working with other airlines, to circumvent red tape, although consumers will fly in aircraft branded with Fastjet’s African grey parrot logo and book through the same website.
Africa is ripe for aviation investment, with huge distances between cities and poor road and rail infrastructure. However, a poor safety record has blighted African airlines, with many carriers barred from European airspace by safety regulators.
Winter said: “At the moment, getting around is incredibly difficult. Put in a reliable service and people will want it. We’ll be bringing travel to people who don’t even dream of flying.” He promised safety would be “everyone’s number one priority” with pilot training consistent and centralised.
He said the cost of flying in Africa averaged four times that of Europe and that savings were clearly possible: “It’s the standard low-cost model. You utilise assets, plan properly, get smart people to be efficient and drive lower costs.
“Fast turnarounds will be a challenge – some airports in Africa are not equipped to deal with that. But the lessons we’ve learned around the world from low-cost airlines will be imported into Africa.”
Haji-Ioannou, who first got the business plan under way in partnership with Lonrho, retains a 5% shareholding and a consultancy agreement. He will join Fastjet’s board but will not,Winter said, be “hands-on”.
Winter hopes the African grey parrot is an apposite logo: “It’s smart, and lives the longest of them all.”