Photo: Julie Zeveloff/Business Insider
The launch of Africa’s first low-cost airline promises to open the continent’s skies to first-time fliers and cut costs for tourists currently hit with some of the world’s most expensive air tickets.Fastjet, part-owned by easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, will take its first scheduled flight in Tanzania this week and plans to expand first across East Africa and then to Ghana and Angola.
If the airline sticks to these plans, British tourists could soon combine safaris in Kenya with gorilla treks in Uganda and time on Zanzibar’s beaches in a two-week trip without excessive flight costs.
Such multi-country holidays in Africa have traditionally been restricted to backpackers with time to take cheap transport.
It is the first time the “book early, pay less” model has come to most of Sub-Saharan Africa. Passengers used to full-service airlines may be surprised at charges for checked-in bags or onboard drinks and snacks. But in return for the lack of frills, the firm’s British management promise base fares for hour-long flights from as little £13 before taxes.
“This is something that can revolutionise my work,” said Godfrey Hicheka, a charity director in Tanzania, who regularly travels between Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital, and Kilimanjaro in the north, to visit field projects.
Often he cannot justify the £225 cost for the 50-minute each-way flight. On fastjet, the return ticket will be as low as £33, including taxes.
“That is cheaper than taking the bus, and it means I can go for a meeting in the morning and be back in Dar by evening – it’s unbelievable,” he said.
Long-distance road travel is often the only option for most Africans, even those in the booming middle class with salaried jobs.
Mr Hicheka’s 400-mile journey from Dar es Salaam to Kilimanjaro would take 11 hours on a cramped coach on roads with an awful reputation for accidents. Unlike in India or South-East Asia, there are few passenger trains in Africa.
“African economies are among the fastest growing in the world, and a lot of that growth is happening in the middle classes,” said Ed Winter, fastjet’s CEO and former chief operating officer of both Go and easyJet.
“But they have simply not been properly served with options to fly to business meetings, to fly home to see their relatives at Christmas, to take their families on holidays. We are here to fill that gap.”
Fastjet has three 156-seat Airbus A319s at its first hub in Dar es Salaam, initially serving Kilimanjaro and Mwanza, a major Tanzanian city on Lake Victoria.
Before the end of the year, Mr Winter plans to start the first international flight, to Entebbe in Uganda, and then to Nairobi, Kenya, by Easter, where the airline’s second hub will be based. Twelve more leased A319s will be delivered by the end of 2013, he said.
“There will of course be benefits not just to East Africans, but to tourists as well,” he said. Flights already connect to Kilimanjaro, for visitors attempting to reach the summit Africa’s highest mountain.
Future destinations include the Indian Ocean resorts of Mombasa and Zanzibar, and Entebbe and Kigali, which would give tourists cheaper access to treks to see mountain gorillas.
However, the fact that no other airline has yet seriously attempted to bring no-frills flying to Africa points to the significant challenges fastjet faces.
Government regulations can be complex, taxes are high, and airport infrastructure often lags decades behind what passengers in the rest of the world expect.
“We know that improved air services are critical to opening up our economy to development, and we can be sure that infrastructure will be improved,” Charles Tizeba, Tanzania’s deputy transport minister, said at the fastjet launch in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.