July is set to be a revolutionary month for African air travel. Last week EasyGroup’s CEO Stelios Haji-Ioannou purchased a 5percent stake in FastJet, a new discount African airline. Stelios has chosen the Airbus A319 for the project, and has already procured five of the 125-seat airliners, but hopes to have fifteen before the end of the year. FastJet hopes to be offering flights by October 2012, potentially drastically altering air connectivity on the continent.
Stelios has described Africa as ‘the aviation industry’s last frontier’, and sees the continent’s expanding middle class and growing markets as the perfect opportunity to finally breach Africa’s skies and bring air travel to those could previously not afford it. The signs are that there is scope for huge expansion in the African tourism industry in general, with visitors to the continent almost doubling in the past 10 years.
However the aviation industry has been understandably hard to breach in the past. Velvet Sky, one of Africa’s only previous ‘low-cost’ airlines, received a final liquidation recently, after months on the ground. Virgin Atlantic also canceled flights to Kenya last year – the African industry as a whole has a reputation for being unreliable and unsafe.
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So what makes Stelios think he can change the tides? The ‘Routes Africa 2012’ conference in Seychelles, which is ongoing this week, points to a significant liberalisation in government attitudes to air travel. The South African Tourism Minister, Mathinus van Schalkwyk has committed to introducing E-Visas, allowing for further ease of travel to the region. The conference, which includes government officials from various African states, as well as CEO’s of the Airline industry and aviation experts, has pledged to reduce taxes for air travel, something that currently greatly hinders expansion of the industry.
With EasyGroup's commitment to cheap flights to Africa, as well as the new zest for air tourism from several African governments, there is no reason why the 'final frontier' cannot be breached in the very near future, significantly boosting tourism and growth across the continent.