FastJet ,the one with the cheerful parrot on their tails, the intended importer of low cost air travel across the African continent, is looking for money again. The Chairman has joined a number of former executives in heading for the exit.
What's going on here?
It's a long story and deserves a full writeup but for the moment here are a few points to ponder:
- Although launched with pan-African ambitions to swiftly spread EasyJet type low cost air travel across the continent, Fastjet has never been and has never been seen as an African airline. Hence to established carriers and many governments it has been viewed as a threat with few offsetting benefits. Even Tanzania, the main beneficiary so far, has cautiously kept its national airline, Air Tanzania. on life support just in case.
-One has to wonder if, prior to launch, its people ranged the continent far and wide, not on escorted besuited visits but as ordinary people and businessmen to take in what they saw and understand some of the realities. Did they walk the streets, explore what was for sale and at what prices in shops, sit in cafes and restaurants ,looking at and listening to what was going on around them? Did they sample local transport, see where people were going. why and what prices, try out airline products and airports, talk to a wide range of local business people of all races and knock on the doors of transport ministers? Did they get to understand who and what they would be dealing with and develop the strategies and tactics of how to approach each? Did they get to grips with local distribution and banking channels (Kenya's mobile phone based banking system is the world leader. Elsewhere credit cards can be rarity.). Did they then visit key decision makers regularly and often? (One offs are pointless. People like to deal with others they get to know and see often). Did they identify the right people to trust and to guide them through the complexities of getting established?
- We don't know the answers to the above questions but some signs are not encouraging. Having a HQ in UK's leafy Surrey didn't exactly say "We are an African airline". Johannesburg is better but South Africa isn't seen by countries north of its borders as being really part of Africa. Maybe the airline's aspirations will shrink for a time mainly into the South African market and then re-emerge with more thrusts northward, but that's a far cry from the bold original vision and timescales.They were right in saying that the continent has huge untapped markets but maybe they misunderstood what form these come in, where they are and how to fully access them? ( With a few exceptions a multiplicity of small pockets is more likely than a plethora of high volume several times a day operations). They have been highly innovative in many ways but new CEO Nico Bezuidenhout has a huge task in stabalising the business and getting it moving forward again. He needs the next cash injection to get the headroom and time to do that. We wish him well.