The much-awaited breakthrough came after Fastjet, the pan-African low-cost was granted clearance by the Kenyan government to operate flights between Kenya and Tanzania under the Bilateral Air services Agreement between the two countries, as previously approved by the Tanzanian government.
The clearance came as a sigh of relief for Fastjet had been lobbying for the clearance for a long time and at one time, in an apparent desperation, a former airline’s senior executive had even pleaded with the Tanzanian government to intervene on Fastjet’s behalf.
Today, with Fastjet finally ‘savouring’, as it were, the Kenyan skies, the fast-growing airline is evidently setting its eyes on a share of the East African aviation market cake that has hitherto been monopolized by the traditional airlines.
The Dar-Nairobi route had previously been a preserve for Kenya Airways and Precision Air (which is partly Kenya Airways-owned).
Fastjet’s entry into the juicy route is therefore, going to upset the apple-cart and could lead to a protracted “air-supremacy war” pitting, on one hand, the low-cost carrier and on the other, the ‘legacy’ airlines that had literally buttoned the route in their back pockets!
The growth of aviation industry in Africa, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa, has been hampered by regulatory restrictions on competition, giving the conventional airlines an upper hand to run roughshod over their customers price-wise.
This has led to increased concentration of only a few major airlines both in the total market and on individual routes.
The new General Manager for Fastjet Tanzania, John Corse, noted the great discrepancy there is between the prices offered by the traditional airlines and low-cost travel and assured Fastjet customers, both regular and new fliers, that Fastjet’s fare model would be different.
“The travelling public pay extortionate fares for regional travel, as the lack of competition on many routes keeps prices artificially high, making air travel beyond the reach of most,” Corse said during the launch of Dar-Nairobi flights in January this year.
Buoyed the success of Fastjet’s operations in Tanzania in which it had already flown over 1,800,000 passengers by the end of 2015, and over one third of whom were first time fliers, Corse assured the public that the airline would offer a unique fare model that will be affordable to all.
“Passenger traffic between the major cities of Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, which have a combined population of over eight million people, has been limited by these high fares which we believe, have excluded large percentages of citizens from air travel”, Corse added.
Corse noted that Fastjet’s coming into the market will bring choice to passengers hence easier mobility for entrepreneurs, tourists and other visitors travelling between the two countries.
Besides, Fastjet’s flights to Kenya will undoubtedly boost the regional integration project through improved bilateral relations and business and social interaction-a prerequisite for fostering East African Community.
According to the Tanzania High Commissioner to Kenya, John Haule, Fastjet’s flights to Nairobi will enable Tanzanians to have a choice when travelling to Kenya, hence encourage them to travel to the country for business, tourism and leisure.
“We are happy that with the coming of Fastjet to Kenya, more Tanzanians will be able to afford air travel and this will enable them to travel to Kenya for various activities.
We encourage more Tanzanians to travel because it will not only boost their businesses but it will also improve social interaction hence spurring the growth of East African Community”, Ambassador Haule said during the launch of the flights in Nairobi, Kenya.
Echoing Haule’s sentiments, Corse underscored the importance of air travel in Africa.
He concluded: “Affordable air travel is key to the growth of economies across Africa, and Fastjet has been able to announce these new routes by working closely with the governments and civil aviation authorities of Tanzania and Kenya, who understand and value the positive impact the low-cost air travel can have on the lives of their citizens and the general economy.”
Fastjet’s expansion programme has been noted by the authoritative Australian-based Centre for Aviation (CAPA), an outfit that provides independent aviation market intelligence, analysis and data.
After Fastjet launched Dar-Nairobi flights, CAPA noted that Tanzania’s premier low-cost airline was set to become ‘the largest low-cost carrier in Africa’.
CAPA cited the suspension of services by flyafrica.com, another low-cost carrier, among the many reasons that are likely to trigger Fastjet’s hegemony in the African skies.