The battle over Africa's skies ramped up a notch Tuesday as Kenyan low-cost carrier Fly-SAX said it was awaiting regulatory approval to launch a new airline based in Tanzania, a move that would put the airline head-to-head with fastjet PLC. Closely held Fly-SAX expects its SAX-Tanzania to make its maiden flight in the second half of the year with a fleet of small planes seating 12 to 80 passengers and serving some of the more remote parts of the country, according to a person familiar with the company's plans. In time, Fly-SAX hopes to get government approval for SAX-Tanzania to fly internationally from Tanzania, in a bid to attract a bigger and more lucrative market, this person said.
"We are launching a new airline to meet the ever-increasing demand for low-cost, efficient and safe air travel within Tanzania from the country's own citizens as well as international tourists," said Don Smith, chief executive of Fly-SAX and Fly 540 Kenya, in a news release prepared for distribution Wednesday. Fly-SAX has appointed Brown Francis as general manager of SAX-Tanzania. Mr. Francis joins from fastjet, where he was director for industry affairs for Tanzania. U.K.-based rival fastjet operates nationally and internationally from Tanzania, where it has effectively become the national flag carrier and has the right to fly to South Africa and Zambia.
The opportunity in Africa for airlines in general, and in particular for a budget carrier, is enormous because of the robust growth of regional economies and the continued development of internationally trading industries. These drivers have already triggered a significant rise in air travel. According to the latest data from trade body International Air Transport Association, air traffic measured by revenue passenger kilometers grew 5.1% from January to November 2013, compared with the same period in 2012. In Tanzania alone, capacity per week has grown to 54,000 available seats per kilometer from just 37,000 five years ago, according to aviation-consulting firm Innovata.