African low-fare operator FastJet is scheduled to launched Nov. 29 with two daily roundtrip flights from Tanzania’s capital Dar es Salaam to Mwanza and Kilimanjaro, in the north of the country.
FastJet plans to expand operations to Kenya with services from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar as well as domestic flights to Mombasa.
The two countries combined will create sufficient demand for FastJet to expand its fleet to about 15 aircraft by the end of 2013, says FastJet CEO Ed Winter.
Bookings are greatly ahead of expectations, according to Winter, and the airline anticipates nearly full flights in its first few days of scheduled operations.
FastJet’s ambitions go beyond Tanzania and Kenya, however. The airline wants to establish a new business model and become the first true pan-African airline. While Kenya and Tanzania are important markets in the East of the continent, there appear to be abundant opportunities in population-rich regions, such as Ghana and Nigeria in West Africa.
“We don’t assume in our business plan that liberalization will come in the near future,” Winter says.
FastJet chose Tanzania as its first base even though Ghana would have been a more attractive market.
But Ghana has been reluctant to abandon its high departure tax that is making low-cost operations unprofitable.
Another possibility was Kenya, but the country was late in filing the paperwork for puttingon the local registry. Tanzania rose to the top of the list because it lacked a home carrier and was interested in improving air services.
Nevertheless, while FastJet managed to move from the early planning stages to first flight within a year, infrastructure development in Tanzania has not kept pace.
The airline’s management has been pushing the country’s airport authorities to upgrade facilities, but so far nothing has been done in Dar es Salaam; FastJet also has to operate out of a tiny terminal in Mwanza International Airport. Because of the large number of tourists into Kilimanjaro, the airport there does not need upgrades for FastJet.
The carrier is based on Fly540, a regional airline with air operator certificates (AOCs) in Kenya, Tanzania, Angola and Ghana.
The Fly540 brand in Tanzania was dropped with the launch of FastJet and will disappear in Kenya once the low-cost carrier (LCC) arrives in the first quarter of 2013. Using existing AOCs has enabled FastJet to speed up the certification and planning process.
But the most obvious market for an LCC in Africa is South Africa. FastJet is believed to have looked at acquiring 1time, a local carrier, but dropped the idea. 1time has since ceased operations.
Neither Winter nor Chief Commercial Officer Richard Bodin is prepared to comment on FastJet’s South African aspirations.
Winter says only that he continues to look at opportunities in other African countries as the airline strives to increase its markets. The FastJet CEO is currently traveling the continent to prepare for further initiatives based on the Tanzania model.