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fastjet commits to Zimbabwe, regional connectivity

by Staff reporter
07 Aug 2023 at 21:49hrs | Views
As the tourism sector improves following a decline between 2020 and 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, airlines are beginning to record meaningful business. With Zimbabwe largely improving the ease of doing business environment more airlines are coming while those that have been around are expanding their operations. To get more about the aviation sector, a local publication engaged newly appointed fastjet accountable manager, Captain Joe Mparuri. Capt Joe is tasked with captaining the airline to new heights. Since joining fastjet at its inception in 2015, Capt Joe has worked on key projects that have been transformational for the airline. Before his appointment, Capt Joe, worked as director of flight operations and was instrumental in the upgrading of several First Officers to Captain for the airline. Owing to the vast experience that saw him command different types of aircraft across the world, Capt Joe has been the flight lead in several fastjet inaugural route launches. Joe brings in years of executive airline management and is an expert in the development of safety programmes and operational processes for airlines and the aviation industry. Read the conversation . . .

Tell us how the Zimbabwean and African aviation landscape shaping up?

Captain Joe: We continue to witness encouraging progress and development across the African aviation industry. Most countries are taking progressive steps to improve their infrastructure, legislation and investments in air travel to serve communities and markets that are key to the development of the communities and regions they serve.

As a landlocked country, aviation plays a pivotal role in the movement of people, goods and services in Zimbabwe. We have seen new airlines operating flights to Zimbabwe, connecting the country to different economic markets and points in Africa and beyond. We are grateful to the authorities for the massive investment in infrastructure that has resulted in upgrading our key international airports in Bulawayo, Victoria Falls and most recently in Harare.

In the past 2 years you have introduced new domestic and regional routes? How are these routes doing and are there plans to add to your network?

Captain Joe: We are committed to connectivity in Zimbabwe and within the region. In the past two years, we have added flights from Victoria Falls to Maun in Botswana and Nelspruit Kruger Mpumalanga in South Africa. Effective 3 September, we shall terminate our scheduled services from Victoria Falls to Maun due to operational factors and the seasonal travel influences for this route. We will continue to serve Botswana with charter and ad-hoc flights according to the demand of our leisure customers. We have also up-scaled our Victoria Falls to Johannesburg flights to thrice daily during the peak season. Within the domestic market, we have added flights to Kariba and Hwange National Park bringing to five the number of destinations that we operate in Zimbabwe.

As a point-to-point airline, we are monitoring the market for expansion opportunities to launch additional routes, we have several unserved destinations across the Southern Africa region that we would like to connect Zimbabwe with.

What type of aircraft does fastjet operate on these routes, and how are they being received by travellers?

Captain Joe: fastjet Zimbabwe operates a mix of an all-Embraer fleet, comprising 5 50-seater Embraer ERJ145 aircraft and two 30-seater Embraer EMB120 turboprop aircraft. These aircraft gave been well received by the market due to their comfort and generous legroom.

The RG Mugabe International Airport has been under renovation and President Mnangagwa commissioned it recently. What is your view of this new airport, and is it likely going to improve destination perception?

Captain Joe: Firstly, congratulations to all involved in the development and upgrading of the terminal building. The development of this terminal is a testament to the government's commitment to support the growing aviation demand to and from Zimbabwe. As a result of the upgrade, our customers can expect an enhanced and effortless customer experience made possible by this new facility. The new airport will most certainly deliver an infrastructure equipped to meet the increasing travel requirements of both local and international travellers.

Victoria Falls is fast regaining its position as a tourism hub post-Covid-19. Tell us how key this market is to your operations.

Captain Joe: Victoria Falls is the backbone of our leisure services. At present, we connect Victoria Falls to five destinations across Southern Africa, namely Harare, Hwange National Park, Kariba, Johannesburg and Nelspruit Kruger Mpumalanga. We continue to review opportunities to connect Victoria Falls with other key cities within the Southern African market.

In 1999, about 49 airlines were flying into Zimbabwe but the number came down to about four in 2008. But it appears more airlines are coming back, with up to 20 now landing in Harare. In your view, does Zimbabwe still have scope to allow more airlines without reducing the profitability of existing players?

Captain Joe: Air connectivity is a major contributor to the development of any economy. The more destinations Zimbabwe is connected with, the more access we have to markets and the easier our exports and imports are transported. As a point-to-point carrier, we stand to benefit from having more airlines flying into Zimbabwe and bringing in people from cities further afield, this gives us the opportunity to distribute these passengers to several destinations in Zimbabwe and the region.

What challenges are being faced in the aviation industry, and how has fastjet been handling them?

Captain Joe: The general economic environment with the increasing cost of fuel remains a challenge for the industry. Taxation is an issue in Africa and these high taxes have been restricting the growth of aviation in the industry. As African airlines, we continue to lobby authorities to reduce and aggregate these taxes to make flying more affordable in Africa. These problems can be resolved through close collaboration at a national and regional level. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), if 12 African countries are to work closely together to improve air connectivity, they will open up trading markets creating 155 000 jobs and contributing $1,5 billion to their GDP. We are lobbying our authorities to ensure Zimbabwe is not left behind.

How can people book for a flight with you?

Captain Joe: For the lowest fares, customers can book through our website or via our fastjet mobile app available on Android and iOS. Booking can be secured through a travel agent of choice.

Nowadays, travellers require a digital experience. How is fastjet offering a digital solution for ease of travel for your customers?

Captain Joe: In December 2022, we introduced our fastjet mobile app available on Android and iOS. Our user-friendly app allows passengers to check in online or manage their bookings in the comfort of their homes. Bookings, payments and check-in can all be done through digital means. For our customer interaction, we actively use WhatsApp Business Messenger to engage with our customers.

Source - The Herald