in Air Transport / Features

Kenya's Silverstone on the fast track to growth

Posted 6 July 2018 · Add Comment

Silverstone Air is the latest low-cost carrier to enter the east African market space. Githae Mwaniki takes a closer look at what’s on offer.

The growth of low-cost carriers (LCCs) has been a key factor to the increased air passenger numbers throughout east Africa.
Kenya, in particular, has witnessed the launch and operation of a number of budget carriers, attracting a wide range of tourists, business executives, government officials and now regular citizens, some of whom are first-time flyers.
The Kenyan carriers contributing to this growth include Jambojet and Skyward Express, which have joined the more established regional LCCs like Fly540, Fly Sax (East African Safari Air Express) and Tanzania’s Fastjet.
Now they have been joined by Silverstone Air Services, branded as Silverstone Air, which was launched in October 2017 using two 50-seater Fokker 50s to serve the lakeside town of Kisumu and south coast town of Ukunda-Diani.
The launch was well received by the market due to attractive pricing and the convenience of operating out of Wilson Airport, which is just 5km from Nairobi Central Business District (CBD).
The airline subsequently expanded by commencing operations to the coastal destinations of Malindi and Lamu, adding two lease purchase agreement 37-seater Bombardier Dash 8 Q-100s. These were delivered in November and December 2017 respectively.
All the flights depart from Wilson Airport at the airline’s passenger terminal at the Airlink Building, next to the Aero Club of East Africa. Additionally, the airline offers group charter flights to any of the destinations within Kenya and east Africa.
Silverstone Air Services was, initially, a charter and contract air operator using a Cessna Caravan CE208 to serve northern Kenya destinations and within South Sudan, primarily serving NGOs with humanitarian and relief flight operations on a contract basis.
This continued until 2015, when the company faced operational challenges that included maintaining the lease of the aircraft. Consequently, the management decided to sell the company 100% to a new set of investors, who were planning to set up a domestic airline.
The transaction was completed in 2016 and the new shareholders, led by Captain Mohamed Somoh, set about restructuring and recapitalising the operation, expanding its certification to include a scheduled service operation.
“Silverstone Air is Kenya’s newest domestic airline aiming to provide the finest experiences,” said Somoh. “We continuously strive to provide safe and economical solutions. We pride ourselves on customer service and dedication towards each passenger’s experience, exceeding client expectations by ensuring they feel valued and welcomed.”
As of January, the airline expanded again, launching operations to Lodwar in the oil-rich Turkana County. Flight operations to Lodwar have targeted business executives with interests in oil and gas exploration activities, tourists, and government officials. Silverstone is the fifth airline to serve the northern Kenya destination.
In February, the carrier launched flights from the lake city of Kisumu to the coastal city of Mombasa – a new direct service not previously offered as, previously, passengers had to connect via Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).
“Our research has shown there is demand for the direct service between the two cities,” said Somoh.
The airline also plans to offer flights to more destinations from Wilson Airport to reach Mombasa, Eldoret and Homa Bay Airport (also known as Kabunde Airstrip) in western Kenya.
In addition to scheduled flights, the airline offers commercial cargo services with cargo charters to destinations in eastern Africa; private air charter to a wide range of clientele (including VIPs, medical evacuations, aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance (ACMI) wet lease services); and humanitarian relief services to NGOs in the region.
The airline also plans to begin flights to more northern Kenya destinations including Marsabit, Wajir and Mandera, as it was recently granted a variation to its air service license to include the routes. It will add a CRJ 200 to its fleet.
“We are looking forward to exposing ourselves fully to competition to make us a stronger and better airline,” said Somoh.
The airline plans to expand its fleet by leasing two further 50-seater Bombardier Dash 8 Q-300s, with the first delivery expected in June.
More Kenyans are identifying with the airline due to its budget pricing and convenience of operating out of Wilson Airport, where access is not affected by the traffic congestion that hits JKIA at peak times.
It has also focused on customer care, with its interactive communication on social media platforms, effective website, where tickets can be purchased with various forms of payment, and its in-flight publication ‘Tembea’ (Swahili word meaning to walk), which outlines a range of information on the airline’s destinations, culture, aircraft fleet details and various aspects of Kenyan culture.
“Due to our customer service and dedicated staff, we have received positive feedback, which has translated into repeat business and exponential growth,” said Somoh
“Our pocket-friendly fares have opened the market and helped us defy the narrative that flying is only for the elite. With time-saving and convenience in mind, many people are embracing air transport. Business people with meetings across the country have been a big support to us and we’ve earned their trust as an airline that doesn’t delay them or cancel their important meetings.”
The airline’s rapid growth has been based on a business plan that was developed locally with financing from local facilities, like the Gulf African Bank, that has assisted the airline in fleet acquisition and other capital requirements.
Private airline financing has been a challenge from most carriers in the region; thus, an effective financing model is key in delivering a sustainable scheduled flight operation.
In addition, Silverstone Air has carefully added accurate route research, ticket pricing, aircraft deployment, procurement and human resource policy implementation, thus enabling it to deliver an effective low-cost domestic operation.

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