3 December 2012

Tanzania: Will This 'Cheapest Airline' Solve December's Transport Blues?

Photo: Capital FM/File
Fastjet: Low cost Tanzania airline.

AT the time when tens of thousands of Tanzanians are about to start their annual end-of-the-year helter-skelter rush and scramble for buses, an airline which charges cheapest fares should be just what the doctor had prescribed.

Being December, thousands are preparing to move from one part of the country to another, which means the scramble of travellers, especially from Dar es Salaam to the Northern regions is intense and synonymous with hiked bus ticket pricing.

As bus operators prepare to hike up their fare charges, however, enters Fastjet, a new airline which threatens to fly people from Dar to Mwanza and Kilimanjaro airports at prices lower than those charged by bus companies; seems like the festive season has just begun.

Normally during the end of year holidays, buses become as scarce as gold which explains why local transport companies charge their tickets like diamonds, but even with skyrocketing bus fares, many are forced to book two weeks in advance with most of them still missing seats.

At the end of last week a 'Fastjet' craft landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport marking the company's maiden trip to the North, at the time when bus operators were planning to take the advantage of the Christmas and New-Year holidays to hike their fare charges.

Fastjet therefore became the talk of the town because the airline promised to charge just 32,000/- for a trip between any of the three destinations, an amount (with hidden tax charges), which proved to be even lower than what is being demanded by the uncomfortable, creaky and sluggish buses plying the same routes.

Airport Shuttle buses operators in Arusha were the first to smile; at least three such commuters were filled to capacity as they left the City heading to KIA. Normally, the shuttles would remain idle throughout the day, waiting for the few travellers using the previously dominant 'Precisionair,' flights.

The Kilimanjaro Airport Development Company (KADCO) were next in the smiling list; apparently if Fastjet maintains its trips within the pricing range, long enough, then the usually empty airport will become busy. Kilimanjaro airport's lifeline has always been the Royal Dutch Airline (KLM) whose aircrafts record more frequent flights to the Northern Tanzania's main terminal.

Other international airlines include Ethiopian Airways, Kenya Airways, Quatar Airlines and the locally run, Precisionair, among others. The airport is currently handling an annual 650,000 passengers' traffic and KADCO believes that the introduction of cheaper airlines like 'Fastjet' would help rake in even more passengers, especially local Tanzanians, travellers into its foyers.

And sure enough, KIA was busy during the maiden landing of the 'cheapest airline' because the departure lounge was crowded and all of the passengers were waiting for the 'Fastjet' plane which as soon as it landed on the terminal's runway, the airport fire engines ' baptised' it with water jets.

KADCO's Business Development Manager, Ms Christine Mwakatobe said the airport management was happy with the development and promised continued support to Fastjet and other airlines aimed at making air transportation industry easy and cheaper.

And with the projected five-flights per day, between KIA and Julius Nyerere (Dar) airport, the business community here expressed satisfaction but also suggested that an early morning (6.00 am) flight should be included.

Mr Richard Bodin the Chief Commercial Officer for Fastjet explained that the airline which was launched last month will start its sky business using three A319 aircraft. The A319 is configured to carry 145 to 156 passengers which affords an economy of scale to support the low cost model in which it operates.

The A319 is a single aisle twin-engine jet that offers high levels of efficiency and low environmental impact, in addition to the high levels of comfort expected in modern state-of-the-art aircraft.

Manufactured by Airbus, the aircraft is part of the A320 family of aircraft and is identical to the A320 in all aspects other than its airframe length (slightly shorter) and the fact that the Fastjet machines have down away with two separate classes onboard. So, will the so-called 'Africa's cheapest airline solve the end-of-year transport blues? We may be in better position to answer than in January 2013.

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