Fastjet’s transition to a new fleet continues to face challenges


(Posted 25th October 2016)

The transition from Fastjet’s Airbus A319 fleet to a leaner and more cost effective fleet of Embraer E190’s appears to have hit regulatory Berlin Walls in both Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
Information filtering in suggests that in Tanzania the airline presently operates one of the two remaining A319’s 5H-FJD and one of initially three Embraers secured on a wet lease from Air Bulgaria. FJD also appears to be heading for some major maintenance soon for engine overhauls, leaving little room to maneuver for the airline’s management in Dar es Salaam.
Earlier information released here speaks of the airline announcing operational changes to their schedule until the end of October and the situation will be monitored if a full schedule will resume thereafter or else operational restrictions remain.
Already weeks ago was it reported here that the regulators were playing hardball with Fastjet in Tanzania over the introduction of Embraer E190 aircraft. One of the reasons given was that the AOC, short for air operator certificate, only shows the A319 as the aircraft of choice, which according to a TCAA source would require an amendment first. Said another source close to the TCAA on condition of anonymity: ‘Some goodwill was extended to Fastjet when the first E190 under wetlease was given operating permission. But this is Tanzania and the ongoing revival of Air Tanzania must not be overlooked. Of course does that influence the thinking in the higher echelons of the TCAA and Fastjet’s problems will help Air Tanzania to get a foot back in the door of the domestic market. That was until now tied up between Fastjet and Precision, so you can see this was a gift for ATCL to take advantage of‘.
It is understood that Fastjet is fast tracking the acquisition on a dry lease of suitable aircraft but must meet regulatory conditions first to have their AOC amended, the aircraft type approved by the TCAA – the Embraer E190 has previously not been operated in Tanzania – and have their aircraft manuals, maintenance and training provisions updated and sanctioned.

It has also been suggested that operational challenges on the double daily route to Mbeya have emerged, as fuel there is super expensive, if at all available, compelling the airline to fly the E190 with less than full house in order to uplift more fuel for the return flight. This is a very costly situation which in fact some time ago compelled Precision Air to drop the route after authorities failed to ensure regular affordable fuel supply in Mbeya.

Flights to and from Johannesburg, by the look of it, also seem to be operated by another aircraft / operator to keep the schedule on this hugely important route intact.

A similar situation appears to have unfolded in Zimbabwe, where authorities are equally un-keen to sanction a wetlease of an Embraer, again in part because the AOC for Fastjet specifies the use of an A319. That aircraft will therefore, by the look of it, remain on the fleet for the time being before an aircraft change can be approved by the ZCAA. Again does the ongoing revival of Air Zimbabwe no doubt play a role, perhaps in a covert way more than an overt way, but this is aviation ‘Realpolitik‘ in the truest sense.

All the best laid plans of how to save cost and introduce leaner aircraft types appear to have been brought to a grinding halt by regulators and it will take Nico Bezuidenhout and his team a Herculean effort to resolve such challenges on the double to avoid a further loss of market share.
Long term does the airline of course have a bright future, once the fleet renewal and relocation of the head office from London Gatwick to Johannesburg has been accomplished, but in the short run will some form of crisis management be the order of the day. This however is something Nico is used to from his two spells as Acting CEO of South African Airways. There, his input and reform programme, has been paying dividends of late, giving the same hope to Fastjet to fly out of the present turbulences sooner or later.

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