By EABW Reporter
Since low-cost airline Fastjet launched its first flight two years ago from Julius Nyerere International Airport it has enjoyed remarkable growth.
The airline now flies to 8 destinations across 5 different countries. To mark the company’s second anniversary, The East African Business Week spoke to Jimmy Kibati, General Manager East Africa, about how the airline’s is changing air travel on the continent and what the future holds for the dynamic enterprise.
Q: Fastjet is two years old. What has the airline learned since launching?
A: Airlines like Fastjet are loaded with costs and similar challenges to major ‘legacy’ carriers. Achieving cost efficiencies and generating revenue on top of low fare charges can be especially challenging within Fastjet’s business model. The airline is also very new in aviation terms, we are still in a growth phase but accessing neighbouring markets especially Tanzania’s main trading partners will now boost our operations. Having greater regional reach and flight frequency will be key to this.
Q: Fastjet made a rapid expansion, what is the secret of your success?
A: We understand Africa. The team is African. We have an African approach to solving problems. Our staffs have been hugely supportive of the business and their respective functions. It is critical to focus on staff, invest in their training needs and enable them to identify with fastjet’s objectives. Our success is also supported by the Tanzanian government, the Tanzanian Civil Aviation Authority and our customers (significantly many have been first time flyers) who all believe in us.
Q: Can you explain Fastjet’s business model?
A: Fastjet aims to be a truly affordable airline and our model is being increasingly understood as passengers learn how to best to secure the best-priced fares. Our model is focused on stimulating latent demand in Africa for people to travel in a safe, reliable way that meets international standards. We leverage on technology, our distribution being mainly through the web, and charge for additional products our customers select. We are increasing Swahili content in our communications, being the first and only East African airline with a website in the language. This further enhances communication with our travelling public and educates customers on how to use our services.
Q: How is air travel changing in response to rising investment in Africa?
A: Capacity growth follows economic trends. In Africa today, the focus on extractive resources and other infrastructure growth has increased foreign direct investments. Major Gulf carriers are bringing in business passengers from across the world via the Middle East. More flights are expected as airport infrastructure expands to meet demand. Strong regional operators are needed to feed and de-feed ‘throughput’ traffic through African hubs to regional markets. Low cost carriers are spreading in Africa as airlines jostle to access these opportunities. Legacy carriers are also expanding their networks and hub infrastructure.
Q: What regions in Africa will you focus on for further expansion?
A: The priority markets remain domestic for Fastjet Tanzania. We are working closely with the government to improve domestic infrastructure, like Mtwara runway, so we can fly our jets in. We will also focus on regional markets with limited barriers to entry, but again those with potential for traffic flows to Tanzania. Regions we will focus on will be those who we can work with to develop their infrastructure, such as runways, so our aircraft can operate between their major domestic destinations.
Q: What are the biggest challenges to your growth strategy?
A: Market access challenges due to regulation in some countries can obstruct our expansion. Changes to ownership in terms of shareholdings can help address this. There is also the challenge of flight frequencies presenting a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario. Passengers might want the convenience of more flights but we might presently have low booking numbers. We need to see a boost in bookings to increase flight frequencies.
Q: What steps can fastjet take to further improve its customer service?
A: Developing my customer facing team is key. My first priority on joining fastjet was to improve the conditions of employees then establish a rapport with the team. I plan to invest in providing additional customer service training to frontline staff and other skills-related training to improve the capabilities. The next stage is improving processes and performance management. Customers and staff are equally important to me. Somebody once said that an effective business leader treats staff the way their best customer is treated. I believe it’s a ‘give and take’ relationship.
Q: How do you motive the FJ team?
A: I hold regular ‘town hall’ discussions with staff to take feedback and respond to team concerns. Communication is critical but my staff are dispersed, even in one location airport and sales staff can be in different sites. Team members such as pilots and cabin crew also run on different schedules to most staff. My expectation is that information is cascaded from my manager through to their respective teams in the most effective manner possible. Staff representatives within the different operations of fastjet Tanzania engaged the management to improve employee benefits and will increasingly collaborate so as to develop an effective performance management culture.
Q: How do you effectively manage your team?
A: Employees are internal customers. Manage them well and you will achieve and surpass the desired result. I believe in building a performance culture that is derived from a sense of ownership with integrity as a never ending shadow.