$9 per flight – Zimbabwe’s FlyAfrica.com leaves experts baffled by its model

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fly-africaHow’s this for a bargain, R99 to Johannesburg from Victoria Falls, 6 times a day on an aircraft. I’ll elaborate, Flyafrica.com  is promising a nine-dollar flight to South Africa from Zimbabwe on a Boeing 737 jet aircraft! That is if their  CEO Adriana Hamilton-Manns is to be believed. During  a recent  interview on CNBC Africa’s Business Tonight show, Hamilton-Manns stated that a flight from Johannesburg to Zimbabwe will cost as little as R99 on his airline. This of course doesn’t make sense.

According to a certain kind of of logic there is surely no way a 108-seater 737-500 aircraft which burns 2 tons of fuel per hour can remain viably operable at $9 a seat. Operating an airline is a very costly undertaking that is complicated and fraught with viability challenges and pit-falls that our own government will be all too happy to share with anyone who cares to listen.  It is no surprise then that when a new airline prances onto the scene promising obscenely low ticket prices the experts  and the skeptics will simply  dismiss it all as nonsense and calmly walk away, while Zimbabweans, as  is usually the case, quietly cross their fingers and hope that it’s all true this time.

This is not the first time Zimbabweans have heard this tale before from an airline.  In 2011 Zimbabwe’s self-proclaimed low cost airline FlyKumba scraped operations barely 12 months after launching. The reason? “Operational challenges”. At the time of its closure FlyKumba charged a quarter of what it cost to fly on the same route on a South African Airways flight.  While FlyKumba tried and failed, a few others – 30 to be exact – have registered for local operation license and have not  shown up at the tarmac on flight day. Yet here is Mr Hamilton-Manns and his FlyAfrica.com, which two weeks unveiled the first of it’s five new Zimbabwean branded  Boeing 737-500 jets, brand new paint job and all.  is he a fool?  You will be very mistaken to think that. Mr Hamilton Manns – a former South African Airways executive vice president – is bringing with him all his vast experience in the aviation industry both in Africa and overseas. If anyone can make this aviation miracle work it could very well be him. When he talks about his vision he appears to know what he means, that is if his jargon-riddled explanations and anecdotes hold up against reality. Another Elon Musk maybe? You decide.

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During Mr Hamilton Manns’ interview a puzzled and visibly perplexed aviation expert who was part of the panel couldn’t help but ask the question everyone may have been dying to ask.  How does Flyafrica.com expect to safely fly people at such a low cost while adequately maintaining their aircraft, paying their taxes and making a profit?  He also adds “I don’t want to know your entire business model, but I would like to know (that).”  But  as Mr Hamilton-Manns puts it in his response,  the answer is simple, it’s  not the fuel, the charges or the taxes – which are all relatively lower in Africa than other parts of the world –  that matter, It is all about how you handle your ‘other costs’.  According to his theory , while African airlines all enjoy relatively similar or lower landing and maintenance costs than airlines elsewhere, they tend to price their services at about 500%-600% higher than their non-African counterparts. Apparently they do this to cross subsidies inefficient cost structures and less profitable international long-haul routes.

Flyafrica.com boasts of a much lower cost base – for example –  it will only take the  company 30 minutes to turn around an aircraft. To achieve this and drive down costs even further they use the flight attendants to clean the cabin after a flight – leaving no need for  costly time wasting cleaning crews – who knows? Maybe the pilots join-in to speed up the process. For this reason and many others, FlyAfrica.com states that they will fly up to 8 times a day. They have to fly that often if this exceptionally unbelievable aviation promise is to become a reality because with low-cost services of any kind it all comes down to the volumes. The trailblazing  CEO makes it clear in his interview “we do need to get market acceptance and trust” – he admits.  The airline does have some innovation tucked up its sleeve, this should be expected from a company that calls their way of doing business “a revolution”, an example of that innovation is the no check-in claim  on their website. Forget about checking-in when you get to the airport, Flyafrica.com  will email your boarding pass with your seat number after you purchase a ticket online.  You can  call it convenience all you like, they call it cost cutting.  Now if all that makes sense to you then there is nothing to worry about. But for the skeptics, there is nothing to look forward to.

Upon further investigations it turns out that Mr. Hamilton Manns may have  meant to place the cost of a flight from Victoria Falls to Johannesburg at a more believable USD 99 as opposed to the unbelievable R99 he mentions in his interview. On their own website, flights between the two destinations are priced between $59-$115 depending on the flight date. However, a banner on the same page above the US dollar prices remains adamant about the R99 per flight price tag. It’s hard to know what to believe at this stage, the audacious CEO or his own company’s self-contradicting website.

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27 Comments

  1. fourwallsinaroom says:

    If I understood correctly when I looked into the pricing of this airline, this does not include airport taxes and other surcharges and is a one way fare with incredible restrictions.
    There is a certain logic to this. You over book flights say 150% and say 100% penalty for no show. I would not mind losing a few dollars on the basis that i might want to go to the falls.

    British airways FYI does something similar, flights from New York to london from $149! Then wait till the fuel surcharge, airport tax, departure tax, seat selection fees (even when flying business class) etc.

    1. Tendai says:

      Zimbabwe is a looter’s paradise. The model can become viable if looters wanting to get a few sacks of diamonds safely out of the country, the cargo biz can more than subsidize the flights getting people (and diamonds) out of Zimbabwe to the outside world.

  2. tendai says:

    I understand their model, it has worked in Asia particularly with http://www.airasia.com/ and http://www.tigerair.com/. it is a matter of volumes and low airport taxis. A flight from say MAlaysia to Thailand costs as low as 50u.s depending on demand. it’s a feasible model.

  3. Obviously a Typo. Judging for the other pricing on that as.

    If he did say its in “rands” it could be motor memory, if that’s what its called when one is accustomed to quoting in their local currency. Same as Zimbabweans easily say dollars when in SA.

    I imagine they will correct the miscommunication.

    Why is this on TechZim by the way? Am struggling to figure its relevancy…

    1. * judging by the pricing on that ad

      1. haha… the irony… given I cited a Typo

  4. Terrence says:

    we are all missing the one point that matters, its from Vic falls, who cares?
    When they start talking about Hre to Jhb then we will care.
    At the moment its the same price to JHB from hre as it is from Hre to Vic falls with Airzim.

    This news is complete nd utter pointless and i am sad i spent the last 5mins reading and posting this comment

  5. Mee Too says:

    Try to do a mock booking…it will cost you R 1,114.00.

  6. Bransmarc Marconi says:

    I think the CEO meant to say $99 not R99, no airline will ever survive charging R99

  7. Anonymous says:

    Those who are surprised with this fare should do their homework…actually wait a minute and add airport taxes and surcharges ….and get your USD450

  8. DuToit says:

    Well here is one guy who has just proven his marketing genius…all the attention he is now getting for advertising a R99 flight is exactly what he is getting and what he needs. Not as a human being would i ever want to fly to Jozi for ~$10. Even if they offer it i would be too skeptical to step into the plane..but for $59.99 hawuu! Remember business law 101, this is an invitation to treat and from that invitation one fact we have soon we will be flying for $59.99 aka $60. What Mr. Mann is simply telling us by R99 is it will be cheap and cheap is what we will expect.

  9. Kungurirai says:

    Compares well with SA domestic flights. may try it. Dai vakangorovera Hre – Jhb ne same price range, kikiki

  10. Reversa Jive says:

    Zviri kufaya kuno joza. Kungo dai, pfacha ne ndege. Kungonzi muzukuru watete va sekuru ve gweru wagwara, pfacha ne ndege. Kungonzi kune all night this weekend, pfacha ne ndege.

    1. M3YA says:

      As long as you stay in Vic Falls u can do all that. Kana zvazvekuGweru anenge ava mazino!

  11. Zvirikufaya says:

    You know who is behind this. Matipedza Karase, the same one wekuvhara the kids for Grezt Zim flights

    http://www.newzimbabwe.com/showbiz-6963-Wendall+duped+over+Great+Zim+flights/showbiz.aspx

  12. Mark says:

    I wish FlyAfrica all the best. Their business model is based on solid principles.

    The low cost model they use , though it’s new and baffling in Zimbabwe is actually a well proven one in use across the globe. It started in the USA with Southwest Airlines then perfected in Europe by Ryanair and Easyjet and is now the template for major airline companies like Air Arabia, Air Asia, Tiger Air etc etc.

    In the UK when Ryanair and Easyjet started out the establishment in the form of British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa etc were saying things like “let’s watch them flop, they won’t last 3 months” Look at them now Ryanair is consistently profitable and more people fly Easyjet each year than on BA!

    The low fares is the basis of attracting customers, Easyjet offers flights from London to say Geneva at a fraction of what BA charges however the cheapest seats are limited in number (the keyword is where the advert says “prices FROM $xx.xx) it’s first come first serve so when the cheap seats are gone they’re gone the next batch of seats to go on sale costs more and prices vary according to market forces, i.e. it’s cheaper to book 4 months in advance than 2 months in advance, sometimes if there are still unsold seats days even just hours before the flight then they drop the prices again. This is because of the first rule of the airline business is : NEVER ALLOW A SEAT TO FLY EMPTY. Better to make $0.0001 profit or break even than have to pay for the fuel to carry the weight of the chair around. This is history a problem in Africa where load factors have been low (half the seats on most Airzim flights are empty) and those people that do buy tickets end up subsidising the invisible customers, thus pushing up fares and causes a cycle where flying is now perceived as a luxury for only the rich. What the low fares do is to stimulate the market, BA /Air France etc still fly the same amount of people as they did 20 years ago yet in the last 10 years overall passenger numbers have nearly trippled in some markets thanks to the low fares carriers. These budget airlines core customers are people who could never afford to fly for their holidays previously and more importantly small business owners who now have a fast and affordable means of transport to support their business activities who previously had to use slower ground transport. It is not unusual for a businessman in a posh suit to turn up at London Gatwick in the morning hop on the cheap flight to say Madrid where he has a meeting and then flies back to Gatwick the same day for the same price as a pair of shoes. Leisure travelers too have more obvious benefits, for the price of 2 cinema tickets it’s now possible to have a mid week day trip to Paris with your girlfriend ! I know which one I’d prefer.
    So if you want a dirt cheap plane ticket, book early and avoid going during busy periods. In the UK Ryanair and Easyjet almost double their prices during the school holidays when people want to take their kids away.

    The other rule of the airline business is : MAKE SURE YOU KEEP A LID ON YOUR COSTS. Ancillary revenue is a big part of the low-cost airline strategy. The basic R99 fares will take you to Vicfalls but will do you nothing else, you want a meal onboard? – Then you must pay for it! You want us to handle your heavy bag and load it onto and off the plane then we buy fuel to carry the weight of your bag in the air? – Fine but you must pay for that too! It’s no different to what we have been doing all along with business class which is the same service only in a bigger seat and with slightly more food. Conventional airlines charge a high fares and give you all you all these services. The low cost airline breaks the service up and you pay for the bits you want/need. Our friend the businessman going to Madrid doesn’t need to carry a suitcase as he will be home in time for dinner, infact he probably doesn’t need a meal onboard either as he will get a KFC in the airport waiting room. A family of four going for a weekend holiday to Barcelona will need to pay for their baggage but they too can save money by only using two suitcases. The airline therefore can have better control of operational costs while at the same time customers can still get the service they want (if they’re prepared to pay for it). These extra charges can bring up the cost of the flights to a similar level as the old established airlines, infact at one point it was cheaper to book BA to Tunisia than to fly Easyjet with suitcase + meal. Most carriers now offer “buy on board” service for food where the cabin crew sell the food/drink as they pass through the aisle, just like they always have with the duty free sales, the menu and prices list is usually on the company’s website so you know how much to budget before you fly.

    I am deliberately leaving out taxes as all passengers have to pay it regardless of the airline carrier they choose. Though some savings can be made on airport fees by using boarding stairs instead of the expensive bridges etc.

    The final and by far the most important rule is: AEROPLANES ONLY MAKE MONEY IN THE AIR. How many hours on end do Airzims planes spend sitting on the ground doing nothing but racking up parking fees? The low-cost carrier wants to drop the passenger off, unload the bags, refuel, load the next bunch of bags, get the next load of customers on and then get moving again in as shorter time as possible. Traditional carriers utilize their aircraft for 8/10 hours per day. The low-cost carrier strives for 18-20 hours perday. Thus the sheer volume of traffic they carry is what pays for overheads and aircraft maintenance/ownership costs. That’s why there is multiple frequencies which further stimulates the market. There are hundreds of buses shutting backwards and forwards between Zimbabwe and Johannesburg and there’s proof that the market exists to support this model and these are the customers Fly Africa are really targeting.

    The final rule is : WHY PAY FOR SOMETHING YOU CAN DO FOR FREE? Johannesburg n Victoria Falls for R99! That’s going to get people talking and if they pull it off then the first lot of happy customers will recommend them and so on. That combined with clever use of social media means you don’t have to pay as much for advertising. Infact why have a printer at the airport to make the boarding pass when your customer has access to a printer at home/ work? They can print their own off before coming to the airport.

    1. Nigel says:

      thanks for the intel Mark, let’s hope they pull it off

    2. Anonymous says:

      Well said

  13. Mark says:

    Apologies if I rambled on for too long.

    1. TENDAI says:

      THAT WAS GOOD INFO FROM YOU MARK.i ALSO HOPE FLYAFRICA WILL BE A SUCCESS BUT I HOPE THEY WILL BRING A HRE-JBURG ROUTE

    2. Anonymous says:

      No worries, enjoyed your contribution!

  14. Mark says:

    I hope so to. The market is crying for this kind of service across Africa.

    Here is what the real experts think of their chances:
    http://centreforaviation.com/analysis/flyafricacom-and-fastjet-give-zimbabwe-its-first-taste-of-lccs-with-local-start-up-175431

  15. Mati Karase says:

    Thank you Mark for your comment. I do hope thus clarifies to those that were earlier on the ‘its not possible’ band wagon that lowcost works and hiw it works.

  16. quincy says:

    i dont trust this!!!!!!! u want to hijack us?????

  17. timon says:

    Cheap,thanx bt no thanx

  18. shiv says:

    so how can book a flight to from harare to cape tow using flyafrica .com including the flight fares

  19. martin says:

    Hre J’burg is here for $39 one way, how abt that

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