Fastjet grinds on

Fastjet is finally making headway in its struggle to establish Africa’s first low-cost network, but significant challenges remain.

In the first-half of the year Fastjet cut operating losses to $13m from $20m in H1 2014, and boosted passenger numbers by more than half on a fleet that rose from three to six aircraft over the course of 2015.

Crucially, Fastjet also secured $75m of funding in April, cash that will keep it in business for “the foreseeable future” – a welcome respite for a company whose auditors said it was on the brink of collapse two years ago.

Key to profitable operations in the near future is an expansion from Fastjet’s Tanzania base into markets such as Kenya and South Africa, but the first steps should see it open bases in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Unfortunately, both have been delayed until the final quarter, as a result of which the company’s annual loss will probably exceed that in 2014. Weak African currencies versus the dollar also haven’t helped.

Fastjet has stated that its Zimbabwean Air Operator Certificate should materialise “shortly” while a Zambian AOC should arrive in “late 2015”.

Next year the airline’s priority will be to secure bases in South Africa and Kenya, nearby countries with the biggest potential markets but also unscrupulous government support for loss-making flag carriers South African Airways and Kenya Airways.

Despite a bilateral air services agreement between Tanzania and Kenya, Fastjet has been trying to secure landing rights in Nairobi for more than a year, and further delays will probably see retaliatory action from Tanzanian aviation authorities against Kenyan airlines.

As ever, then, progress towards an international service across Africa’s illiberal markets is frustratingly slow, though Fastjet has at least learned to be more patient.

In June the company disposed of the Fly540 Ghana unit that almost sunk it during a breakneck fit of expansion several years ago, while Fly540 Angola has been shuttered and now awaits sale.

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