International plans on ice
The carrier’s licence already specifies 22 domestic and regional points that the Kenyan government has authorised it to serve, but securing foreign designations will be trickier. Just as fastjet took almost a year to gain access to international routes, so Jambojet will encounter push-back from foreign governments who want to keep airfares high in order to stem losses at their own flag carriers.
When international destinations do become viable, they will initially be connected with Nairobi. A secondary base at Mombasa will later be evaluated, paving the way for Jambojet to be a point-to-point operator in more than just name.
Focusing on the domestic network is a prudent first step, enabling the airline to refine its operations and promulgate its brand without muscling in on protected overseas routes. The next step is to upgrade Jambojet’s three Boeing 737-300s to newer -700s, which cost more to lease but have the advantage of higher fuel efficiency. “The intention is to switch to next-generation aircraft within a year,” he says. “It made sense to use those older -300s at first. By doing that you lower your start-up risks.”
As time passes, Jambojet will need to recover ground lost to fastjet, which today serves four foreign countries from Tanzania (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Uganda). The London-headquartered company is also renewing efforts to establish a Kenyan subsidiary, having divested its interest in former partner Fly540 Kenya. Direct competition between Jambojet and fastjet would be welcomed by passengers, but risks igniting a price war that destabilises both operators.
Hondius is therefore standing by his softly-softly approach. The threat of terror attacks on Kenya’s southern coast has already impacted tourism demand, and further shocks are all but certain in the largely untested African LCC market. If customers respond well to the brand and lower fares stimulate demand, then Hondius believes that Jambojet could operate 10 aircraft by 2019. It is a prediction, however, which he stresses has not been cast in stone.