Relatively-new fastjet CEO Nico Bezuidenhout has a big job on his hands, despite the positive impact the low-cost airline has made in Africa since launching in 2012. Here he answers some questions from Business Traveller Africa, along with providing his view on the African airline industry and some of the issues it faces.
Q: What’s your view on the current state of the African airline industry?
A: There is a lot of latitude for growth and the African opportunity, in particular for low-cost airlines. The potential for connecting and moving people and goods is significant and, as with the mobile telephony sector, aviation will continue to play a growing role in the development of the continental economy.
Q: What do you believe are the most pressing issues that need addressing?
A: The implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision would create substantial benefit to the sector and, too, up and downstream economic benefit.
Q: Do you believe we’ll see open skies in Africa in the next decade?
A: We have already seen some African markets partially implement open skies and we will more than likely see further implementation of the notion/ concept in years to come.
Q: Have you picked up any international trends that you believe could be – or already are being – implemented in Africa?
A: Africa leads innovation in many instances, such as the development of mobile money. In aviation, one sees international trends emerging such as the hybridisation of low-cost airlines. This includes, for example, the introduction of more business-friendly and premium products that maintain the fundamental principles of more affordable travel.
Q: What changes have you made since joining fastjet?
A: Fastjet has, over the past year, implemented a significant number of initiatives successfully. As part of our Stabilisation Plan loss-making routes were culled and our fleet was re-aligned, matching the aircraft gauge to the market size. We moved our headquarters to African soil and are achieving greater efficiencies across all aspects of our business. In addition, fastjet implemented a brand new reservation system, developed a new website, launched flights to Mozambique, engaged in a brand-licence agreement with Federal Airlines and substantially increased connectivity between South Africa and Zimbabwe (Harare) with four daily flights, re-launched our Johannesburg- Victoria Falls route and we are soon launching our fifth network point in Tanzania.
Q: Fastjet is the first low-cost carrier to operate in Mozambique. What was attractive about this market?
A: Mozambique held many commercially attractive aspects for our brand. Fastjet is the first low-cost airline to launch in this market and, as with other markets globally, the introduction of affordable and reliable air transportation further stimulates demand and as a consequence, growth. In addition, Mozambique continues to maintain a positive GDP growth rate and research has shown that in tandem with GDP growth, demand for a reputable low-cost airline brand was present in the market.
Q: How do you think the change in political regime in Zimbabwe will affect your operation there?
A: Fastjet last year celebrated its second year of operations in Zimbabwe and has enjoyed growing support from the market. Aviation and GDP more often than not either grows or recedes in tandem and a successful economy with positive GDP growth in turn positively impacts growth for an airline.
Q: What are the features or characteristics of the business travellers that use fastjet?
A: Fastjet offers affordable, comfortable and reliable air transportation between many of Africa’s key economic centres. Our business travellers range from entrepreneurs through to business executives. In many markets we have seen a growing number of executives switch to more affordable travel on low-cost airlines.
Q: Do you offer any business travel-specific products?
A: Fastjet presently offers an Achiever fare product that allows for greater flexibility and includes luggage, whereas our BigSaver product leans toward a traditional low-cost fare product where luggage and travel plan changes come at an additional cost. Fastjet is also presently working on another fare product that will be shaped around business travel.
Q: What role do you believe technology should play in the low-cost carrier space?
A: Technology forms an integral part of a low-cost airline’s business. Technology allows for efficient distribution of inventory (online and mobile sales) through to customer service and marketing. Technology makes it easier for our passengers to do business with us, and, after all, that is one of the primary objectives.