STELIOS HAJI-IOANNOU first announced his intention to bring easyJet-style success to the African market in late 2010. Bright orange Airbus jets have become a commonplace at many major and secondary airports across Europe. EasyJet was started in 1995 with two Boeing 737s and the investment of a portion of the Haji-Ioannou family fortune, and quickly stood up to growing rival, Ryanair. The airline recently announced record profits and plans for further growth.
On the other hand, the African airline industry remains largely untapped, currently served by numerous legacy carriers that rely on government support to cover any losses. The introduction of an easyJet replica will not go unnoticed; Fastjet faces numerous challenges if it is to successfully establish its presence in the African market.
Strains in the budding airline’s low-cost model are already occurring, with a revised operational turn-around time of up to 45 minutes expected; as opposed to the common 25 minute turnaround that is gospel with current low-cost carriers. This turnaround revision is due to the lack of experienced personnel and equipment at many African airports.
In-keeping with easyJet tradition, Fastjet will commence operations by “piggy-backing” on the Air Operators Certificate of an existing, smaller carrier, Fly540. The turboprop operator will see its services slowly wound down as Fastjet’s colourful Airbus A319 operations take to the helm.
With its first base in Tanzania, Haji-Ioannou’s new airline will target markets in neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Uganda. Future plans will see the carrier branch out to more destinations, particularly in Western Africa, which see extremely limited low-cost operations.
Also worth noting is the company’s interest in Nigerian and Ghanaian flights. This has proven to be a notoriously difficult market for airlines with foreign investments. Virgin Nigeria, later Air Nigeria, struggled to settle in the country and was often unfairly shunned by the national government which favoured local airlines.
Fastjet has ambitious plans which could see Haji-Ioannou add another success story to his already shining portfolio. This project will, however, face many hurdles on very new and untested territories. Fastjet’s aim of becoming a modern, safe and profitable low-cost airline in Africa may be ahead of its time, or exactly what traditionally ailing African economies need.