With the lofty hope of changing the way commercial aviation works in Africa, the fledgling Dar es Salaam-based carrier Fastjet has its sights set on forging a pan-African air service that’s safe, punctual and affordable.
Started in 2012, Fastjet has three aircraft on routes within Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa and, most recently, Zimbabwe. Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of EasyJet, is a major shareholder and the cost-cutting influences of its backer are obvious. But typical low-cost policies like charging for checked luggage are in some cases an upgrade for passengers. Despite the challenges presented by the shaky aviation infrastructure here, Fastjet didn’t cancel a single flight in its first six months of operation. It still boasts a punctuality rate of 95 per cent, which is unheard of in the region.
“We behave as though we were a European-regulated airline and that drives a great difference of discipline on our part,” says CEO Ed Winter. That’s shaken things up in Dar es Salaam, where passengers previously assumed flights would always depart late. “People had been so used to turning up several hours after the flight was due to go and finding it still there, a lot of people were caught out.”
There is plenty of room to grow. Africa contains 15 per cent of the world’s population but currently sees just 3 per cent of global commercial air traffic. “It’s a continent where cities are huge distances apart. There’s usually a mountain, a jungle, a river, a desert – and there’s hardly ever a road,” says Winter. “At the same time Africa is the last continent where there isn’t really good air connectivity, so the opportunity is enormous.”