By Business Day
HARARE: Low-cost carrier Fastjet announced on Wednesday that it would begin daily flights between Harare, the Zimbabwe capital and Bulawayo, the second largest city, from July 20.
The move is expected to end the monopoly currently enjoyed by national carrier, Air Zimbabwe, which operates two daily flights between the two cities.
Fastjet’s entry into the Harare-Bulawayo route will gnaw at the troubled national airline, which is already hard-hit by increased competition from foreign airlines, debt of $300m, a staff exodus, and is hamstrung by aged aircraft.
“Fastjet has been pursuing this route designation for several years,” said Fastjet CEO Nico Bezuidenhout. “We are delighted to see that positive changes in the Zimbabwean environment made this development possible, enabling low-fare connectivity between more domestic destinations.”
The other domestic route on which Fastjet operates is Harare-Victoria Falls, operating two flights daily between the capital and the tourist town.
Since being allowed to operate in the country in 2015, Fastjet has emerged as the only viable low-cost carrier and has given competition to full-service flight operators, such as South African Airways (SAA), British Airways and Air Zimbabwe, which also fly to Victoria Falls and Harare.
Its main competitor in the low-cost segment, Fly Africa, has been unreliable, often starting and stopping operations — a situation that has greatly favoured Fastjet.
Bezuidenhout, said the airline would begin with a single flight on the Harare-Bulawayo route, but it would revise it in accordance with the response of the market.
“While we are launching with a single frequency at present, Fastjet intends to further grow the route following further consultation with stakeholders and, ultimately, to introduce additional aircraft to facilitate growth.”
For its Harare-Bulawayo flight, Fastjet has priced the fare at $59 including taxes. It is significantly lower than the average $100 charged by Air Zimbabwe.
Fastjet, listed on London’s AIM market, recently indicated that it had $1.75m in ticket sales stuck in Zimbabwe that it was unable to repatriate.
An International Air Transport Association (IATA) report released last month named Zimbabwe one of the top five markets globally that airlines have difficulty repatriating funds from. About $76m is stuck in Zimbabwe in airlines’ funds — SAA is owed the bulk of $60m.
John Grant, an aviation analyst and director of JG Aviation in London, said there was a recognisable uptake of low-cost travel by passengers, with low-cost airlines accounting for between 35% and 40% of seats in many markets. He said Fastjet’s advantage in the low-cost business was its ability to have a fleet matched to the markets it serviced.
Said Grant: “The point is that they are now sizing their fleet to the market rather than trying to create demand for larger aircraft than the market requires. The classic low-cost carrier model is a single aisle A320, B737 operation with about 160 seats … That hasn’t worked in Africa, so with Fastjet now using smaller aircraft types and, therefore, matching capacity more closely to demand, what they are developing is a bit of a hybrid model.”