How Jambojet is revolutionizing low-cost air travel

East Africa’s economy is thriving.

A stable political climate, favorable trade policies and a more focused approach on infrastructure development have seen East Africa outpace other regional blocs – with E.A member states combined GDP growth expected to remain at a robust 5.9% according to the 2019 African Development Bank (AFDB) Regional Economic Report.

It means that East Africa is now a promising destination for investors, local entrepreneurs, and even international and domestic tourists. This, in turn, has brought with it a higher demand for travel within member states.

High airfares have however haunted travelers, but low-cost airlines like Jambojet – which specializes in handling short-haul flyers, have emerged with more affordable propositions without compromising on quality, customer experiences and shareholder value.

At the same time, low-cost airlines have largely been responsible for the changing attitudes towards air travel.

Five years ago, it would have been unheard of or rather the preserve of a few – for one to travel to a city like a Dar es saalm in the morning and be back to Nairobi on the same day without coughing up hefty airfares. 

Today, such short term travels are nothing out of the ordinary and Jambojet’s latest initiatives may see it become not only one of the greatest names of the region’s skies but also the first pan-African low-cost carrier.

The budget carrier which recently completed its maiden flight to Kigali Rwanda on the 25th of November has continued to sharpen its revolutionary low-cost model through cutting onboard perks and ditching inclusive extras, therefore trimming the cost of a flight ticket by around half as much compared to flight tickets via regional state carriers.

For instance, on the new one hour daily flights to Kigali, the airline announced an introductory fare of USD 109 (Ksh 11,240) which may likely climb to between USD 150 (Ksh 15,000) – USD 160 (16,000).

But compared to the average airfare of USD 300 (Ksh 30,000) charged by state carriers within the same route, Jambojet’s offering is a proper win and a road to Damascus for budget travelers.

Jambojet’s boss Mr. Allan Kilavuka, says that his airline’s operational model, involves unbundling the different elements of airfare which include; luggage, cost of meals and the cost of the seat itself – to give a customer the choice of purchasing the service they wish.

“Those who wish to fly ‘just in and out’ will only pay for the seat – they can buy everything else separately,” said Mr. Kilavuka during the ‘Rwanda route’ inaugural ceremony held at Kigali International Airport.

Having trimmed what it can, Jambojet – a fully owned subsidiary of Kenya airways has also focused on digitization and has become one of the region’s most digitally advanced airlines. Over 60% of its customers book for tickets online, meaning it retains the near 20% commission that is usually gobbled up by travel agents. These and other initiatives are largely responsible for the affordable and reasonably priced airfares. 

The Jambojet story began in 2014 when it commenced operations in Kenya and became instantly popular with Kenya’s emerging middle class and more so first-time travelers.

But questions have emerged about the future of Jambojet under the Kenya Airways (KQ) Nationalization Plan that was approved by Parliament in July this year – where KQ Chairman Michael Joseph is lobbying the National assembly to finalize the process within six months.

During a previous interview with Maudhui House; on the KQ nationalization process which is expected to kick off on 20th December, CEO Allan Kilavuka admitted that the airline’s future is still in limbo and he was instead encouraging his team to focus on things within their control, like anticipating  customer needs and providing the best solutions to those needs.

“We don’t know how this is going to pan out yet (referring to the KQ nationalization process). However, we as Jambojet will continue demonstrating that we have a solid business model that’s working for us as a company, and works for the customer. We’ve made an immense contribution towards the growth of the aviation industry in East Africa, and we will keep doing that and much more” Mr. Kilavuka said.

After Kigali – Rwanda, the low-cost airline which recently purchased two new Dash 8 – 400 jets from Canadian aircraft maker De Havilland – as part of its regional expansion plan, said that it is now eying cities within South Sudan, DRC Congo, Tanzania and the Union of Comoros.

However, the Somali route which was set to commence a day before Kigali was delayed up to around February next year following a slight approval hiccup with Mogadishu authorities.

There have been instances where other local and regional airlines have attempted to mimic Jambojet’s operational model with the sole purpose of achieving equal if not greater success.

But CEO Allan Kilavuka says that he is not bothered about it and in fact, thinks it’s a huge compliment.

“It shows we are doing things right”

“Our single, biggest focus is not on competition, but on our customers. How can we provide the best solutions to our customers? How can we anticipate their needs and where can we improve?  We have therefore built our culture around this; customer-centricity is the clarion call” He said.

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