FIRST CASUALTY IN AIRFARE WARS IN KENYA
East African Safari Air Express, airline coding B5, has halted all flights in the face of ever stiffer competition in particular on ‘their route’ to Juba / Southern Sudan and shrinking traffic to what used to be their ‘plum destination’ Lokichoggio / Northern Kenya.
The airline, which was operating aged equipment of the early generation DC9’s never managed to achieve what for instance their erstwhile partner and latter day rival Jetlink managed, to convert their fleet to modern day jets with superior operating costs in particular as far as fuel burn was concerned, leave alone firming up market perception about ‘being on the move’ and not standing still.
Some weeks ago the DC9 fleet was effectively grounded in a last ditch effort to cause a financial turnabout, and substituted for two South African registered BAE 146. That however too did not stop the bleed apparently and ever more dismal loadfactors seem to have scared off the joint venture partners from South Africa. It is understood that when they withdrew their planes the end game approached rapidly for EASA and the halt of operations finally confirmed this.
In particular the route to Juba has in recent weeks become substantially more competitive, after Kenya Airways finally entered the frame and commenced daily flights between Nairobi and the Southern Sudanese capital, and together with Jetlink – they are operating twice a day in fact on their modern CRJ200 jets – will try to see off other competition to this highly profitable destination. The use of their outdated, worn and far from state of the art aircraft was undoubtedly one of the many reasons why B5 in the end operated with what some say barely 30 percent load factor while those using newer jets operate well near with full house on every departure.
In a twist of sorts, a senior Kenya Airways manager – now taken to court by Jetlink together with KQ itself – made comments last week about B5 not going to operate, but in a mistaken belief seems to have packaged EASA with Jetlink, which in fact not only operates but has just added new routes, and now faces a court case over libel. While we await the outcome of this case – some sources have indicated that KQ may wish to settle this out of court in view of the blunder by their employee – the aviation industry in Kenya is undoubtedly now facing a period of ‘survival for the financially fittest’, as Kenya Airways slug it out on the main routes between Nairobi and Mombasa, but of late also Nairobi to Kisumu, with Jetlink and Fly 540. Ever new and lower fares, as reported yesterday when KQ launched a ‘stand by fare’ of 3.000 Kenya Shillings (1 US Dollar is worth about 80 Kenya Shillings) one way between Nairobi and Mombasa, inclusive of all taxes, make operations now only viable when combined with high loadfactors, and the next few weeks will undoubtedly tell who has the fortitude of deep pockets and high loads and who else might have to face the inevitable and join EASA in the history books of Kenyan aviation. Watch this space for the very latest information on aviation developments in Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean region.