Fastjet Zimbabwe continues to soar

Interview with Julian Edmunds, Chief Commercial Officer, fastjet

Fastjet Zimbabwe is looking to grow its agency business in strategic markets across Europe, Australia, North America, and Asia by providing travel agents with local sales support, access to inventory via their preferred GDS screens, and value-added products and fares that consultants can sell to their customers. 

Launched in 2015, fastjet currently services five domestic routes and offers international flights between Johannesburg and Bulawayo and Johannesburg to Victoria Falls and Harare.  

Julian Edmunds, Chief Commercial Officer of the fastjet Group, said a decision to add 95,000 seats to fastjet Zimbabwe’s network by Q3 of last year had resulted in a 40% increase in revenue. 

But higher fuel costs and increased competition from other regional carriers are two challenges the business will need to continue navigating this year. 

Julian said a 10% increase in the company’s fuel bill had offset some of the benefits of the rise in sales. At the same time, economic growth would help African airlines overcome even the most significant challenges. 

Julian added that, recently, Zimbabwe had implemented a more open skies policy with South Africa, which had improved chances for South African airlines to expand their presence in the region, leading to increased competition and reduced fares.  

The open skies development is attributed to the ongoing implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) project initiated by the African Union. This project seeks to liberalize African skies and ease the implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision agreed upon in 1999 and the Yamoussoukro Declaration of 1988. 

Julian Edmunds, Chief Commercial Officer, fastjet

Julian said: At fastjet, we are exploring ways to leverage the opportunities that SAATM provides. However, our smaller aircraft present an immediate challenge in competing against airlines with larger planes. Nevertheless, this development is good news for consumers and is driving demand and market growth.” 

Another major component of fastjet’s commercial strategy for 2024 is to leverage its expanded commercial agreement with AirlinePros International.  

In October 2023, the partners extended their agreement, under which AirlinePros will provide General Sales Agency (GSA) and other sales and business development services to the airline in 12 markets globally.  

Julian said the airline would continue driving business via the GDS and that the channel plays a significant role in the Zimbabwean market. Group series operators are another crucial source of business, he said. 

In addition to fastjet’s GSA agreements with AirlinePros, Julian confirmed fastjet Zimbabwe had joined BSPs in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, which will essentially manage payments to the airline throughout the year. 

According to Julian, foreign tourists make up a considerable part of fastjet Zimbabwe’s customer base and feeder traffic carried by Federal Airlines (FedAir), a charter and safari shuttle service operator in South Africa that is also part of the group. We have observed a steady rise in the number of visitors coming from abroad. AirlinePros has a widespread distribution network, which makes them the perfect partner for fastjet to achieve its goals in this regard,” added Julian. 

Fastjet hopes to win even more business this year through ongoing product development, including a loyalty program. We aim to launch a loyalty program with digital wallet options, including free flights and other tourism-related products,” Julian revealed, adding: We continue to explore more innovative payment options, particularly those suited to our Zimbabwean customers, and will be reviewing opportunities to facilitate as well as increase payment points in South Africa.” 

Julian said there was still a desire to see other fastjet franchise bases set up in different parts of Africa despite fastjet Tanzania’s closing in 2018 and its exit from Mozambique a year later. However, he stressed that the group would consider the right opportunity carefully and wanted to maximize the use of existing resources.  

Already, spare seat capacity is helping run more fastjet charters. [A charter also] provides a way for customers to experience our high-quality services on a bespoke basis,” said Julian.  

A safari of opportunity

The safari industry’s charter market (non-scheduled flights) is an exciting space for the fastjet group, and Julian reiterated that fastjet Zimbabwe’s sister airline, FedAir, was performing exceptionally well. 

FedAir acquired six new Cessna Caravan 208B EX aircraft in mid-2023 to meet demand. However, according to Julian, additional fleet expansion opportunities are being considered to take advantage of this buoyant market segment. Two extra PC12s will join the fleet in 2024.  

From the end of March 2024, FedAir will also add services to the Marakele National Park, expanding its network.  

 Julian said this would offer safari-goers enhanced connectivity and help keep up with the significant demand from overseas source markets. 

Fastjet’s CCO concluded: We see significant demand from the USA, UK, and Germany, as well as the wider EU region. Demand for flights in and out of the Kruger (National Park in South Africa) is on the increase, with particular popularity being around connections to different locations such as Cape Town and Victoria Falls. Federal Airlines offers connectivity not just within the Kruger, but also to/from Phinda, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, [while] fastjet charters to popular locations within the southern African region.” 

Pictured above: Achma Asokan Foster, AirlinePros’ Group CEO, gave award-winning fastjet five gold stars for service and performance after she flew with the airline to Harare recently for business. Achma raved: “It was such a pleasant experience to fly the airline that has won ‘Africa’s leading low-cost airline’ award nearly 10 times… Understandably, fastjet is on a path of constant improvement. The crew uniforms were also changed recently to represent a smart and modern look that is in sync with their brand identity. When I flew, I met with trainer Johan and crew member Anabella, both of whom went that extra mile… even informing personally which side of the aircraft the Victoria Falls could be spotted!”