Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi.

Harare - Fly Africa, a low-cost carrier based in Zimbabwe, plans to compete with South African Airways on the Harare-Johannesburg route next month by luring passengers with cheaper deals.

“For that sort of flight one shouldn’t pay in excess of $300 (R3,261) on a return ticket,” country manager Matipedza Karase, the son of chief executive Chaka Karase, said in an October 22 interview at the company’s offices in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital.

“We bring low-cost flying to the industry. We want to demystify air travel to the common man, for students as well.”

Africa is less served by budget airlines than other continents, with flights between cities often more expensive than trips to Europe or the Middle East.

Mango Airlines, a low-cost unit of South African Airways, reported a record profit in the year ending March as it added new routes, while carriers including London-based FastJet are seeking to expand in Africa.

SAA, as the state carrier is known, has the most flights on the Johannesburg-Harare route at 21 a week, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe.

The airline’s cheapest return flight to Harare from Johannesburg departing November 3 costs 4,328 rand, according to the SAA website.

Other carriers operating the route include state-owned Air Zimbabwe and British Airways through its Comair associate.

Closely held Fly Africa will start its first flight connecting the cities November 3, Karase said, while routes from Johannesburg to Windhoek and Lusaka, the capitals of Namibia and Zambia respectfully, are scheduled to begin by the end of the year.

 

Victoria Falls

 

Fly Africa is also competing with SAA on flights to the Zimbabwean resort town of Victoria Falls from Johannesburg, after starting four weekly journeys from South Africa’s most populous city on August 1.

SAA flies to the tourist destination seven times a week and has applied for seven additional flights into the town following high demand from Australasia, the Middle East, North and South America, Aaron Munetsi, SAA’s regional general manager for Africa and Middle East, told a meeting for Zimbabwe Council for Tourism on October 21.

“We have been on and off at around 45 to 55 percent load capacity in a day” on the Victoria Falls route, Karase said, referring to the aviation industry measure for the ratio of passengers to seats.

“A lot of the passengers we have been taking are independent tourist market and business travellers.”

 

Five Boeings

 

He said the carrier has five Boeing 737-500s bought from CSA Czech Airlines, declining to disclose the price.

Fly Africa is 51 percent owned by the Karase family, with the balance controlled by a Mauritius-based company that he didn’t identify.

Karase was involved with failed Zimbabwe low-cost carrier Fresh Air, which collapsed in 2012 after South African partner 1time Holding went bankrupt.

“It’s been much easier this time around because we know what we were up against, in terms of meeting regulatory requirements.” he said.

“It’s never easy. It’s an ongoing battle to stay compliant and stay airborne.” - Bloomberg News