Meet Mohamed Abassali Mombasa Air Safari MD
What’s the market for the airline like?
Mombasa Air Safari was founded about 30 years ago. In those days there was a vibrant air charter market as the scheduled airline business was nascent and dominated by Kenya Airways, which was then struggling to establish itself as a reliable and profitable carrier.
We were one of the pioneer air charter operators since flights between Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu could only be catered by small airlines.
There also existed a market from visiting tourists who flew directly to Mombasa to enjoy our exotic beaches but also wanted to enjoy wildlife safaris, the quickest way was to fly direct from the Coast to Amboseli, Tsavo or Masai Mara.
Is charter business booming this year?
When Kenya is not suffering from travel advisories, the seasons are the same each year. Early wildebeest migration in the Mara has little impact because our bookings are mainly foreign tourists who book holidays in advance. The peak season runs from mid-July to mid-September; we expect bookings to peak up to mid-September.
From mid-December we have what we call a shoulder season up to Christmas. We then have another short peak from Christmas to mid-January before slowing down and then the low season starts from April to end of June.
How competitive is the Mara route?
To start with, we have to ensure that we fly in and out of the Mara with the right type of aircraft — Short Take Off and Landing (STOL) capability — because of the high altitude and short, murram runways.
Secondly, Mara is expansive, with lodges and camps separated by long distances. So the flights involve multiple landings and take offs. Many airlines fly to the Mara from Nairobi, so we have to match the services and offer competitive fares.
Further, few tourists fly directly to the Coast due to limited international scheduled flights. Tourist charter flights from Europe to Mombasa are also not many anymore. Flights from the Coast to the Mara take more than double the flying time compared to flights from Nairobi, making the Coast-Mara route more expensive.
Still, we are committed to serving our customers despite such challenges.
What challenges do local airlines face?
The ever increasing costs of operating the business. The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has been constantly revising regulations, which must be complied with, and these come at a heavy financial cost. The cost of fuel also keeps increasing due to global market conditions and VAT.