Smear campaign against African airline, Fastjet?

Fastjet Fastjet

Unlike in Kenya, where a low-cost carrier airline’s market entry was mainly contested at the level of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority’s (KCAA) licensing hearing, ahead of which several airlines filed written objections prompting the KCAA to defer a decision until all issues surrounding the matter have been reviewed, regional competitors and wannabe competitors in Zambia have gone down the dirty road by launching a smear campaign against this LCC’s effort to establish its brand.

Fastjet was invited last year by the Zambian government to set up an airline to offer domestic and regional flights in an underserved market.

While trying to get to the bottom of this campaign, the airline’s Richard Bodin, a member of the Board of Directors of Fastjet PLC and also the Chief Commercial Officer, responded quickly to nip the murky campaign in the bud when he wrote: “Fastjet Zambia has applied for a Zambian ASP and looks forward to receiving a decision from the Zambian Government in due course.

“The company has fully complied with all the necessary regulations and followed the correct and official procedures with regard to its application.

Fastjet Zambia’s launch will not only introduce competition in the country’s aviation industry, break down the monopolies that exist on certain routes, and introduce better and cheaper domestic fares for the Zambian people, but provide employment opportunities for local people and increase the flow of tourists into the country, thus benefitting the country’s economy.”

It is understood from sources within Zambia’s aviation industry that similar to the case of Fastjet commencing flights to Johannesburg out of Dar es Salaam, when a certain airline used its influence to delay the launch on the eve of the inaugural flight over – at least that was the reason given even if it never held water – when the South African regulators suddenly required additional documentation while said airline continued to charge outrageous fares for a few more weeks, the campaign was aimed to disrupt the licensing process and launch of flights.

It is a known fact to this correspondent that the late President Sata had last year personally invited Fastjet to set up an airline in Zambia and since then, the airline has gone through the various stages of application for an air service license and eventually an air operators certificate, without cutting corners or using “directives from above” to shortcut the process. Interim President Scott has given no indication that his government has changed or reviewed their support for Fastjet’s plans to launch domestic and regional flights, and the airline’s Zambian partner, who holds the required 51 percent share majority to comply with the nationality requirements for airline ownership is equally committed to vigorously ensure that the smear campaign will fail and the culprits, some already known to this correspondent, be exposed.

A source close to Fastjet also pointed out that being a publicly-quoted company on the London Stock Exchange it is entirely out of the question to use underhanded methods or bribery, regardless of the potential delay in finally taking to the skies.

Going by the experience in Tanzania, the only country from which Fastjet presently operates – the airline serves the domestic routes from Dar es Salaam to Kilimanjaro, Mwanza and Mbeya, and international routes to Johannesburg, Lusaka, Harare, and Entebbe – will, once flights commence, cause the deck of aviation cards in Zambia to be severely reshuffled and in particular the expensive fares from Lusaka to Johannesburg be brought down to levels where more people will fly instead of taking busses or trains, currently their only other option considering the differential between airfares and the cost of other modes of transport.

Considering that the government in Zimbabwe has equally invited Fastjet to set up an airline in that country, the battle lines are clearly being drawn right now between the hitherto hugely influential aviation lobby in South Africa which dominated the Southern African aviation industry almost at will and the national interests of countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe which are keen to see an airline take to the skies charging affordable fares and offering safe operations.