LOW-COST airline Fastjet Zimbabwe says it has surpassed its target for the first three months since launching domestic routes in October after its passenger load factor averaged 65%.
The airline on Monday launched its maiden flight to South Africa as the carrier expands its regional presence, signaling intensifying competition in the aviation sector.
The emergence of low-cost airlines on Zimbabwe’s airspace under government’s open sky policy is now seen as an aggressive strategy to woo back big airlines which stopped flying to Harare after relations with the West soured over alleged human rights abuses and violations of property rights following the chaotic land reform programme in 2000.
“As a low-cost airline generally our load factor should be around 65% and I’m glad to say that we have achieved that in the last three months. We play the volumes game and this load factor has enabled us to spread our wings into the region,” Fastjet chief pilot Joe Mparuri told businessdigest at the launch of the Harare-Johannesburg route.
A high load factor indicates that an airline has full planes with most seats occupied by passengers. Airlines have high fixed costs associated with each flight.
Break-even load factor is often used by airlines in strategic planning. An airline wishing to attract low-budget customers with cheap tickets will likely need a higher load factor to stay profitable and may need aircraft designed to carry more passengers.
Airlines flying the Harare-Johannesburg route have slashed airfares by nearly 40% after the entry of Fastjet.
Tickets for flights are already on sale, with lowest priced fares on both routes of US$80 one-way excluding government and airport taxes (US$50 departing Zimbabwe or US$35 departing South Africa).
National career Air Zimbabwe has rolled out a promotion, slashing airfares in light of the competition, charging US$130 for a one way flight to Johannesburg and US$240 for return flights excluding airport departure tax. For the Harare-Victoria Falls which Fastjet is charging a minimum of US$38 for a single flight, Air Zimbabwe is charging US$90.
South African Airways is also running a promotion where it is charging US$410 for the Harare Johannesburg return flight.
Over the course of the next three years, Fastjet expects to invest in the region of US$15 million and employ approximately 200 people directly, with hundreds more employed in secondary services such as fuel, catering and cleaning supporting the airline.
Government in December 2015 granted the low-cost airline an air service permit for more domestic routes, as negotiations for the London Stock Exchange-listed carrier to service four more Sadc countries from Zimbabwe reach advanced stages.
The planned regional routes, sources said, include Lubumbashi, Gaborone, Blantyre and Lilongwe.