Interview: Fly540 boss speaks about east Africa’s budget airline industry

How we made it in Africa’s Regina Ekiru interviewed Nixon Ooko, operations director of low-cost airline Fly540.

Kenya Airways recently announced it will form a low-cost subsidiary to handle its regional operations. Do you see this as a threat?

New competition is a continuing feature of the airline industry, which benefits the travelling public. Dealing with fresh challenges from both new and existing airlines is a regular part of the daily work of the Fly540 management team. By providing reliable air travel at attractive fares, we have established a strong group of regular users of Fly540. We respond to their needs and attract more passengers by increasing our flights, growing our route network and improving our facilities. For example, our Wilson Airport facility in Nairobi was established to save passengers travelling to holiday destinations from the heavy traffic to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Recognising the expansion of trade between Kenya and South Sudan, we launched flights to Juba in May 2011. This route is served by 50-seater CRJ twin jet aircraft and both the aircraft and the route have been very popular, leading us to add six more flights a week to our schedule.

How does poor infrastructure affect your expansion plans?

Our vision is the provision of flights to every major town in the 47 counties of Kenya and equally strong networks in Tanzania and Uganda. This will take considerable time because of the lack of good airfields and limited navigational aids. Considering the importance of air travel and the advantages of air freight we would like to see substantially more investment by the governments of east Africa in the construction of airfields and strengthening of navigational aids.

What are the greatest challenges currently facing your company?

The rising fuel prices have caused increases in airline fares. Unreliable power supply throughout east Africa has increased the cost of doing business and the airline industry is no exception. Generators have been purchased to maintain the work flow of our offices adding to our operating costs.

What is holding back the growth of east Africa’s aviation industry in general?

The growth of the aviation industry is handicapped by the lack of harmonised regulations throughout the East African Community and weaknesses in the infrastructure, particularly the comparatively few airfields suitable for the operations of jet aircraft. In addition, the regulations for the registration of aircraft are a hindrance to taking advantage of opportunities to introduce new services.

Are training institutions in Kenya meeting the airline industry’s demands for skilled professionals?

There is a gap between academia and the airline industry, which means that a significant number of new staff require on the job training and practical experience before meeting Kenya Civil Aviation regulations covering not only pilots and engineers, but also cabin crew and ground staff. We endeavour to help bridge the gap by offering attachments and internships within the capacity of our organisation.