FASTJET has hit another speed bump en route to local runways.
The British-based, London-listed airline, which owns 25% of the local airline with the other 75% held by a murky company co-owned by Edward Zuma, was due to take off on May 31.
Ticket sales were to have started on Thursday. It’s the latest in a series of delays that began in the middle of last year when fastjet CEO Ed Winter said he hoped to get the airline up and running in South Africa before Christmas last year.
Now Brad Dickson, commercial manager of Federal Air, the company that fastjet has partnered with locally, said the first week of July was a more likely launch date.
This time, it was a glitch with Fastjet’s website that scuppered the launch date of the low-cost carrier. And not even the son of President Jacob Zuma can fix the problem.
Edward Zuma — and a few other wealthy and/or well-connected individuals — fulfil the 75% local shareholding requirement for a foreign-owned airline to operate in South Africa.
Initially, fastjet wanted to resuscitate the much-loved but mortally wounded 1time airline, but it struggled to get the requisite 75% local ownership. Transport Minister Ben Martin was asked to set this legislation aside, but he refused, and for a month or so everything went quiet on the fastjet front. Press releases dried up and queries were ignored.
But fastjet’s aspiration of becoming a low-cost, pan-African airline meant it needed a footprint in South Africa. So it was no real surprise when the company reappeared after forging a commercial partnership with Federal Air — best known for ferrying the well-heeled between game reserves.
Federal Air’s licensing structure allows it to fly internationally and use large aircraft, including the 737 that fastjet had in mind.
But fastjet’s murky history in Africa leaves big question marks over how it plans to operate in South Africa.
Fastjet was developed out of the unprofitable Fly540 aviation wing of Lonrho, a century-old London-listed company focused on Africa. The idea was to take advantage of the chasm in the market for an efficient mode of transport across the world’s fastest developing continent. Airbus spokes-man Linden Birns said that whoever could tap Africa’s affordable travel market would attain the “Holy Grail”.
Scandal has dogged fastjet since its launch last year. The airline’s foray into South Africa has been no less sensational, partly because it picked Edward Zuma, notorious for not paying his debts, as its local partner.
• This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times