Fastjet has announced that it has received permission for flights between Harare and Johannesburg.
On the surface the fact that a budget airline has a new route does not sound newsworthy. However, in the context of air restrictions in Africa and how low-cost air has grown into successful hub operations in Europe this is a development on which all who are responsible for business travel within Africa should keep a watchful eye.
Fastjet is a British-registered holding company for a group of individual companies, each of which is registered as an airline in the African country in which it has an operation, but which all operate as one carrier with the FN IATA code. In other words Fastjet conforms to African governments' protectionist laws and custom and practice while effectively operating as a pan-African airline.
Travelling between countries in Africa can be challenging. Geography makes ground travel challenging and well paved motorways are not the standard scenery they are in Europe.
Moreover, there is no open skies agreement and no central air traffic control in Africa. This often necessitates having to take an indirect route between two city pairs because the carrier is prohibited from flying over another country's air space. Flights requiring changes or ones forced to fly via circuitous routes are not uncommon and can take inordinate amounts of time. Direct flights between African cities and European destinations can often take the same amount or less time than flights between two cities on the continent.
Business Travel iQ last year produced a Focus Report on Africa which observed that there is a large amount of intra-continental business travel but despite improvements to air infrastructure such as the upgrading of some airports, there are still significant barriers to regional air travel being an automated process and seamless experience.
Many African carriers are not on the GDS. However, Fastjet may be a low-cost carrier but it on Amadeus, Travelport and Sabre and, unlike the Continents' established carriers, its decentralised structure is allowing it to develop the intra-continental network which modern Africa so desperately needs.
African economies are developing — indeed they dominate any list of the fastest growing countries in the world — and this rapid growth will undoubtedly require business travel.
Isn't it handy that Fastjet is rushing in to replicate what the likes of easyJet and Ryanair have done on the Continent by developing a multi-hub business?
It may be no coincidence that a major shareholder of Fastjet is EasyGroup, which is owned by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of easyJet.