FastJet eyes Zambia


(Posted 17th January 2014)

Following recent intensified press speculation has FastJet now confirmed that it is in discussions with the Zambian government over the establishment of a FastJet airline based in Lusaka.

The Zambian economy provides considerable opportunity. Zambia has a population of over 14 million, 66% of which are under 24 years of age. While landlocked, Zambia has borders with Tanzania, Malawi, Congo DR, Namibia, Botswana, Angola and Zimbabwe and has significant regional trade links with its neighbours. South Africa is a major trading partner and provider of technical expertise. Zambia is a significant producer of copper with exports to China and other countries. The economy is growing with an average annual real GDP growth in excess of 6% since 2005.

Apart from Pro-Flight there are a number of smaller local airlines which provide often unreliable services on domestic Zambian routes and there is, according to a FastJet source, enough evidence for the need to have an affordable airline that can offer good value, high quality and regular services. Key domestic routes that could be served by the FastJet low-cost model are between Lusaka, Ndola and Livingstone. Ndola, on the DRC border and in the centre of the copper belt, is a key hub which is currently poorly served. On many routes, Zambian people currently have to undertake long and dangerous road journeys in the absence of affordable travel by air. Typical is the route from Lusaka to Dar es Salaam, which will be served by FastJet Tanzania from 1st February 2014. Presently thousands of people undertake the often hazardous 24 hour road journey or spend several days on the TAZARA train, which runs from Dar es Salaam into Zambia.

Regional international routes are mostly provided by non-Zambian airlines, with the key route from Lusaka to Johannesburg being served with seven flights per day by South Africa Airways and its associates. Again, the FastJet source points out that the company is confident that its pricing model will grow traffic on these routes substantially.

The business environment in Zambia is of late also reported to be more progressive and FastJet’s discussions to date with the Zambian government, the Zambia Tourist Board and other stakeholders have been very positive. Highlighted during the talks have been the obvious benefits of a low-cost airline to the country, which include the expansion of trade and tourism links and the safety and reliability improvements which FastJet will bring to the Zambian aviation industry.

The new airline, which is to be distributed and marketed as a part of the pan-African FastJet network, would be a Zambian registered company, operating very likely under a franchise model in which FastJet plc, a company registered in the UK, will have a substantial stake. The airline would have country-specific branding and would provide employment opportunities to suitably qualified Zambians. Furthermore, FastJet would provide training facilities as appropriate to ensure that the airline grows and develops its Zambian roots and workforce. FastJet reportedly is keen to engage with potential Zambian investment partners to accomplish such goals. Such a potential ownership structure was first mentioned at the Routes Africa Conference in Kampala last year by the Richard Bodin, FastJet’s COO, when he indicated that the company could opt for a franchise model rather than a fully owned set up.

The airline will reportedly submit its application for an Air Services Licence and subsequently for an Air Operator Certificate as soon as possible though this process can from experience to take up to six months or even longer. In the meantime, FastJet will be bringing its reliable, safe and great-value flights to the Zambian people on the Lusaka – Dar es Salaam route that was announced recently and has already recorded strong interest and sales. The inaugural flight will be launched on the 01st of February, now just two weeks away.

Watch this space for regular and breaking news from the aviation sector across Eastern Africa.