Low-cost airline fastjet is based in Britain and listed in London.
Low-cost airline fastjet is based in Britain and listed in London.

SOUTH Africa’s regional airlines have a new low-cost competitor to contend with as Fastjet Zimbabwe on Wednesday launched with an inaugural flight between Harare and Victoria Falls to fly three times weekly.

Fastjet was first launched in Tanzania in 2012 and has carried over 1.8-million passengers in the region at fares as low as $20 including taxes.

Six months after it had launched in Tanzania, about 38% of its passengers had never been inside an airport, according to Fastjet chief commercial officer Richard Bodin. By the end of last year, 35% of the airline’s passengers were first-time flyers.

"So we have been able to stimulate demand and pull people off the busses," said Mr Bodin.

More than 100 busses travel between Johannesburg and Harare transporting over 3,700 people in a 24 hour journey, Mr Bodin said.

He said Zimbabwe had once had 46 airlines travelling out of the country but this had decreased to 12, excluding Fastjet Zimbabwe.

The airline would run domestic flights as well as regional flights from Zimbabwe.

Mr Bodin said the fares being charged by South African airlines flying to Zimbabwe were "exceedingly and unjustifiably" high. Fastjet has previously said the high costs were due to the Comair and South African Airways "duopoly" on routes to Zimbabwe and other regional routes.

Mr Bodin said Fastjet already had a good presence in South Africa with a daily service to Tanzania from Johannesburg among other routes, but "you cannot be a true Pan-African carrier without a significant South African service" and would be looking to launch Fastjet South Africa as well.

In 2013, plans to launch Fastjet in SA failed after it did not succeed in its bid to buy then bankrupt airline 1time but it said it was willing to take a five-year outlook on finalising a deal.

Fastjet sees the launch of its Zimbabwean airline as a step to launching a Pan-African airline.

The airline intends to finalise plans to launch Fastjet Zambia in the next two months.

Transport economist and aviation expert Joachim Vermooten said their African routes were generally characterised by higher fares and lower volumes and a competitor would be good.

However he said it was not possible "as it stands now" to have a Pan-African carrier as Africa did not have an internal market.

"You need an internal economic area so you can register your airline anywhere and operate anywhere," he said.

He said treaties on the continent were based on bilateral agreements and visas were required for travel.

"You can never have the benefit of flying in a deregulated market under a bilateral system … for it to work there shouldn’t be any limits on freedom of movement," he said.

While the lower oil price meant Fastjet was enjoying lower jet fuel prices, this was not true for all parts of the continent, Mr Bodin said.

This was because the jet fuel price had not decreased in some areas of the continent due to the cost of transporting the fuel.