Tough times ahead for Kenya’s domestic airlines as Jambojet readies to take to the skies

THE AIR IS GETTING THIN IN KENYA’S SKIES

(Posted 12th March 2014)

As Jambojet rakes in bookings at record numbers, with some saying they have now over 15.000 flights booked already by a new breed of air travelers shifting their mode of transport from the bus to the aircraft, have their competitors on Kenya’s domestic routes now resorted to challenge Jambojet and parent corporation Kenya Airways before the Competition Authority, alleging that the new start up was engaged in ‘anti competitive behaviour’.

The move is reminiscent of similar attempts in the past when both Fly 540 and Jetlink complained after Kenya Airways had introduced stand by fares which could only be accessed at the airport, not pre-booked and applied only if space on a particular flight was available, but that case faltered as is this last minute attempt very likely to fail again.

In fact, Willem Hondius, CEO of Jambojet, is quoted to have said that the time to raise any objections to the shareholding, the routes applied for and other elements in the application for an air service license before the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority would have been at the public hearing but that no such objections were made known at the time, effectively serving the purpose of ‘speak up now or forever hold your peace’.

Jambojet has hit the market hard with fares starting from Kenya Shillings 2.850, one way, all charges included – though checked bags and requests for a specific seat do attract an extra cost – for flights for instance between Nairobi and Mombasa and according to industry observers has their market entry in particular hit the bus companies. Bus operators often charge more for premium seats and services in coaches, which however take 8 or more hours to travel the distance between the two cities while a flight with a Boeing B737-300 takes under an hour. Bus operators are also presently hampered by a ban on night travel following a spate of bus accidents, this development too aiding Jambojet in their marketing drive to attract an entirely new clientele to fly with them.

Other industry observers pointed to the fact that Kenya Airways was voluntarily withdrawing services from the routes Jambojet will from the 01st of April be flying to, like Eldoret for which it already announced the suspension of their own services and it is expected that even flights by KQ to Mombasa and Kisumu will be ‘thinned out’ so as to avoid any suggestion the two airlines were aiming to corner the market. Said one regular contributor: ‘This is a bitter medicine to swallow for 540 but it is just the same what Precision Air went through when FastJet started in Tanzania. Now the tables are turned except that FastJet there has a way to obscure the real price people have to pay while Jambojet honestly advertises an inclusive fare and states very publicly what a checked piece of baggage costs. I personally think that a formal complaint, if really filed, will lack merit and not change either the startup date or the fares Jambojet is charging’.

Interesting times ahead for sure as the air in the skies over Kenya has just grown considerably thinner for the airlines while passengers can now benefit from new record low fares. Watch this space for breaking and regular aviation news from the entire Eastern African region.

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