Low-cost pan-African airline Fastjet on Monday launched daily flights starting at $80 one way between Harare, Zimbabwe, and Johannesburg, South Africa, according to a press release.
The U.K.-based airline described its newest African route as ushering in a new era of choice for passengers who either had to pay prohibitively high fares on flights between the two cities, or travel up to 20 hours by road.
Fares on the new route start at $80 US one way, plus taxes ($50 US departing Zimbabwe or $35 US departing South Africa).
Even before Fastjet flights commenced between Johannesburg and Harare, airline customers felt the impact, the company said in a press release. Fares on competing airlines have fallen by as much as 40 percent since Fastjet made the announcement.
“The fact is that competition is good for consumers. It brings choice and it brings air fares down,” said Richard Bodin, Fastjet’s chief commercial officer, in a prepared statement.
The inaugural flight departed Harare International Airport at 06h15 and landed in Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport at 07h55. The return FN8108 flight from Johannesburg took off at 08h40 and landed in Harare at 10h15.
A second daily flight is expected to added between Johannesburg and Zimbabwe as consumer demand increases, the airline said.
Fastjet also plans to launch a second international route between Victoria Falls and Johannesburg, with more routes planned to connect Zimbabwe to other East and Southern Africa markets in the first quarter of 2016.
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Up to 40 percent of passengers on all Fastjet routes have been first-time flyers, the airline said.
“Making it easier for more entrepreneurs, traders, tourists and other visitors to travel between Zimbabwe and South Africa will strengthen the countries’ relationship, boost tourism and business sectors, create jobs and contribute significantly to both countries’ economic growth,” Bodin said.
Fastjet passengers can pay to carry up to 80 kilograms (176 pounds) of checked luggage on the flights — an option that’s expected to be popular with traders flying with fastjet to buy wholesale produce in Johannesburg and transport it back to their home markets to sell, according to Fastjet.
Zimbabwe wants to win back big airlines which stopped flying to Harare after relations soured with the West, TheIndependent reported. Alleged human rights abuses and property rights violations following the chaotic land reform program in 2000 have hurt business.
Now competition is growing among airlines flying to and from Zimbabwe.
Fastjet Zimbabwe is expected to invest about $15 million in Zimbabwe and create hundreds of jobs including in fuel, catering, and cleaning.
Daily Fastjet flights began Jan. 11 between Dar es Salaam and Nairobi; Kilimanjaro and Nairobi; and Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.
The Nairobi-Kilimanjaro fares start at $50 US one way, and Nairobi-Dar es Salaam fares begin at $80 US one way, plus taxes. Taxes are $49 departing Tanzania and $40 departing Kenya, according to an earlier Fastjet press release.
Fastjet currently flies from Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Kenya, according to the Fastjet website.
It flies from five airports in Tanzania, covering routes between Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, Kilimanjaro, Mbeya and Zanzibar. It also flies from Tanzania to Johannesburg, Lusaka, Harare, Entebbe, Lilongwe and Nairobi.
The airline warned in December that revenue in 2015 and 2016 would be lower than previously anticipated, FinancialTimes reported. It cited unfavorable currency conditions and a tough airline market.
Fastjet has been in operation since November 2012. The airline was created to duplicate the success of low cost European operators such as easyJet in Africa, according to FinancialTimes. In Tanzania, demand fell for flights around the time of the presidential election in October, with fewer civil servants and government officials traveling.