African low-cost carrier, fastjet, is close to officially launching its new Zambian business and could announce its proposed domestic flight schedule within a matter of weeks. The news comes as the carrier confirms that a fourth Airbus A319 is currently being painted in its full livery and talks have started to introduce a fifth aircraft to support its network development from both Tanzania and Zambia.
The budget carrier has seen a strong start to the year with its Tanzania business reporting a 52 per cent rise in passenger numbers in May 2015 compared to the same month last year. Over a rolling 12 month period to the end of May 2015, the airline carried 716,350 passengers, up 76 per cent on the previous 12 months.
The increasing demand has pushed fastjet to boost its schedules. For its summer flying programme (end of July 2015 to mid-September 2015) additional flights will be introduced on the Dar es Salaam - Mwanza route, while an extra weekly flight linking Dar es Salaam with both Lusaka and Harare will further increase the utilisation of its current fleet.
“Once again, fastjet Tanzania has achieved considerable passenger growth year-on-year. This is particularly pleasing as we approach the busy summer period during which we have added more capacity on certain routes to meet expected demand,” said Ed Winter, chief executive officer, fastjet.
The airline revealed plans last month to increase its fleet this year as it seeks to expand its operations and add further routes to its network. With fastjet’s current fleet of three aircraft now almost fully utilised, additional aircraft will be required to support the planned expansion of fastjet Tanzania and to facilitate the start-up of planned new fastjet operations in both Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A letter of intent with ICBC International Leasing Company Limited in respect of the leasing of one A319 has already been signed and Winter said preparations for the introduction of the fourth aircraft into its fleet are well underway. “This aircraft is being painted in our distinctive brand and being reconfigured to join the fastjet fleet,” he said.
This aircraft is the first of a number that fastjet is planning to add to its fleet this year, with each additional aircraft able to make up to 1,000 more seats per day available to fastjet’s customers. Based on the 75 per cent load factors currently being projected by fastjet, each aircraft in the fleet is expected to carry approximately 275,000 passengers per annum.
“I can also confirm that discussions are underway with potential suppliers to deliver our fifth aircraft,” confirmed Winter.
fastjet is currently in the advanced stages of the licencing process in both Zambia and Zimbabwe having been awarded Air Service Permit (ASP) from the authorities in each country in December 2014 and March 2015, respectively. These afford the airline authority to operate air services to both domestic and international destinations within and from the countries, but it still awaits the award of Air Operator’s Certificates (AOCs) which will allow the commencement of operations.
Speaking to Routesonline earlier this month on the sidelines of the Routes Middle East & Africa forum in the Kingdom of Bahrain, Richard Bodin, chief commercial officer, fastjet highlighted the potential the business sees in new markets such as Zambia and Zimbabwe.
"We recognised the real potential in Zambia and Zimbabwe some time ago and have been working with the authorities to build fastjet Zambia and fastjet Zimbabwe, and obtain permission to commence operations to various domestic and international destinations from the country,” he said.
Discussions with regulators for both ventures are moving forward “very nicely,” according to Bodin. “We should be in a position to launch before the end of the year, if not earlier than that,” he added.
fastjet will explore growth into each international market on a case-by-case basis and develop a different business model for each venture, including potentially deviating from the current Airbus A319 fleet that its original business in Tanzania operates. However, the type still remains the ideal aircraft for the main markets it is serving across Africa.
“We have been considering smaller aircraft to go into the smaller provincial airfields and that is still a question we ask ourselves very regularly,” said Bodin, “but the untapped market in Zambia, in Zimbabwe, is so significant and some of the destinations are so strong that certainly the A319 suits those plans.”
It has been a long process to turn proposed paper airlines in Zambia and Zimbabwe into established business and Bodin confirmed that while some nations are embracing the airline’s low-cost model, others are still resistant to change.
“At one end you have got Governments that are approaching us asking... ‘Why we are not flying here? We see what you have done in Tanzania. We have seen the benefits. We want you to fly here’... then at the other end we have got one or two significant authorities that are simply doing all they can to prevent us from flying or growing in their region,” he said.
You can watch our EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW with Richard Bodin from Routes Middle East & Africa, below...