Pan-African low-cost carrier Fastjet launches scheduled flights

Dar es Salaam
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Pan-African low-cost carrier (LCC) Fastjet has commenced domestic operations from Julius Nyerere airport in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The maiden flight was operated to the northern city of Mwanza at 6:00 local time on 29 November - departing on-schedule and "almost full to capacity", says the airline. It was followed by a second service to Kilimanjaro later in the morning.

Fastjet will serve the twice daily routes with three Airbus A319s (MSNs 2176, 1145 and 1068) - two of which have entered service, while the third joins the fleet on 3 December.

Speaking to Flightglobal in Dar es Salaam before the launch of scheduled flights, chief executive Ed Winter said the carrier has already applied for flying rights to Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya, Entebbe in Uganda, Kigali in Rwanda, and Juba in South Sudan.

"The bilateral agreements allow additional Tanzanian airlines on those routes, but it's not a straightforward case of just adding routes," he noted, adding that securing rights in east Africa can be a "convoluted, slightly bureaucratic process".

Fastjet says it hopes to "democratise" air travel through what amounts to the first concerted attempt to introduce European-style LCC models across Africa.

Its second base will be established in Nairobi in the first quarter of 2013, while subsequent bases will be added next year in the west African capitals of Accra, Ghana and Luanda, Angola.

Fastjet has air operators certificates (AOCs) in Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana and Angola due to its acquisition of regional carrier Fly540, which will continue to operate turboprop services in the latter three countries until Fastjet expands its operations.

The airline also confirmed this month that it is investigating an "earlier-than-expected opportunity" to enter the southern African marketplace.

Winter declined to comment on media speculation about Fastjet holding talks with South Africa's recently-collapsed 1time Airline, saying: "Clearly at some point we would want to be in South Africa...but we're in the middle of a number of negotiations and discussions in various parts of Africa."

He credited majority stakeholder Lonrho PLC with helping Fastjet lobby governments for lower taxes - a key obstacle to low-yielding LCC models - but accepted that other region-specific challenges persist on the continent.

Tanzanian deputy transport minister Charles Tizeba had struck a cautious note at a press conference in Dar es Salaam two days before the launch, urging transparency over Fastjet's ancillary charges.

Responding to his comments, chief commercial officer Richard Bodin told Flightglobal the airline is sensitive to differing cultural expectations. "The low-cost carrier model is new to east Africa," he noted. "It is our responsibility to make sure that customers are brought up to speed with what it looks like.

"One of the first things that we learnt as a small management team was that the pure...low-cost carrier model would not work in east Africa. We have to adapt and mould the model to fit the environment, culture, market, distribution channels and so on."

Winter agreed, saying that while Fastjet imposes charges for baggage and refreshments, his employees will be "sympathetic" when dealing with passenger misunderstandings.

The airline aims to expand its fleet to up to 15 A319s during its first year, with the fourth jet due to be based in Nairobi. It has signed agreements with Swissport International for ground handling and Sabena technics for line maintenance.

One-way ticket prices start at 32,000 Tanzanian Shillings ($20) excluding taxes and charges, with fares expected to average around $80.