FastJet looks to overcome obstacles to African airline growth

Tue Jun 4, 2013 11:01am EDT
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* Early success in Tanzania but expansion delayed

* Carrier faces regulatory, infrastructure, cost problems

* African aviation set to grow rapidly

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN, June 4 (Reuters) - Dogged by a series of snags in its attempt to create Africa's first continent-wide low-cost airline, FastJet remains confident it can tap a market of 1 billion people after early success in Tanzania.

Protectionism, red tape and poor infrastructure have hampered FastJet since it launched operations six months ago in the world's poorest continent, where people fly once in 15 years on average compared with twice a year for Americans.

"Africa is a bit like Europe in the 70s, all the routes are controlled by governments ... often with a lot of protectionism built in," said Ed Winter, chief executive of FastJet, which is backed by Lonrho and the UK's easyJet.

When flying in Tanzania from capital Dar es Salaam to Kilimanjaro or Mueza, Winter says 38 percent of passengers are first-time flyers, testament to Africa's potential for growth.

"These are routes where people have in the past been travelling by bus or just not travelling at all ... now they just jump on our airplane and move, exactly what the low-cost model is designed for," Winter told Reuters on the sidelines of an IATA meeting of global airlines in Cape Town.   Continued...