National carrier Air Zimbabwe faces competition from low-cost airline Fly Africa, which launched its maiden flight between Victoria Falls and Johannesburg on Wednesday.
It plans to enter the domestic market, which has produced a steady flow of cash for the ailing Air Zimbabwe for more than three decades. The newcomer, which charges a $100 return fare between the resort town and South Africa’s economic hub, wants to roll out more routes into South Africa, as well as domestic flights. This may unsettle Air Zimbabwe’s popular Harare-Bulawayo route.
“We are happy with the way everything is going. We want to demystify the myth on flying,” said Chakanyuka Karase, the country chairperson for Fly Africa. Karase said flights between Harare and Johannesburg, among other routes, will begin in September.
Economic observers said the entry of a low-cost airliner was necessary to shake up Air Zimbabwe’s lethargy. Eric Bloch, a senior partner at H&E Bloch consultancy, said Air Zimbabwe has to rethink its strategy.
“It will necessitate that Air Zimbabwe reduces its fares in order to remain competitive, because of the pricing of Fly Africa,” said Bloch.
Only Air Zimbabwe is currently servicing the domestic route. The airline is battling to secure a piece of the market share in the region, which is dominated by South African Airways, South African Airlink and British Airways.
Saddled with debt of more than $100-million, Air Zimbabwe has in recent years been facing severe operational problems that have seen it stop and start its operations.
Several regional and international airlines such as Emirates and Air Namibia have made a return to Harare after leaving the country due to concerns of a deteriorating economic and political environment.