South African start-up airline Lift successfully took to the skies on Thursday morning, with its inaugural flight between Joburg’s OR Tambo International Airport and Cape Town International – Africa’s busiest domestic air route.
The flight departed for the Mother City at around 6:30am, with a separate flight from Cape Town to Joburg departing around 6:50am.
Lift’s launch comes in a year that will go down as the worst yet in global aviation history, due to the devastating impact of Covid-19 on air travel. But Gidon Novick sees the launch as an opportunistic entry back into the airline business at the right time.
— ORTambo (@ortambo_int) December 10, 2020
Novick is the former joint CEO of Comair and founder of Kulula.com. He then served as CEO of Discovery Vitality and most recently founded venture capital platform Lucid Ventures.
“I never really planned to come back into this industry, but when Covid-19 hit, I realised that this may be too good an opportunity to be missed,” he told Moneyweb at OR Tambo on Wednesday, during a media event showcasing the new airline’s livery and offering.
“The best opportunities often come when an industry is at a low,” he added.
Novick teamed up with Jonathan Ayache, the former head of operations for sub-Saharan Africa at Uber, to co-found the country’s newest airline.
Lift, which will initially operate flights between Joburg and Cape Town as well as Joburg and George, has a start-up fleet of three Airbus A320 planes. While this aircraft was launched around 30 years ago, Novick said it is very efficient for domestic short-haul flights.
The airline has struck a deal with Global Aviation Operations, which will effectively operate the flights.
Joburg-based Global Aviation (which trades as Global Airways) has been a provider of charter and ACMI (aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance) lease services to airlines locally and internationally for some 20 years.
Watch: Lift co-founder Gidon Novick speaks to Moneyweb
Worth noting is that Global Aviation’s other local clients include the likes of Comair (owner of Kulula and operator of British Airways domestic flights in SA), FlySafair, Mango and the Department of Home Affairs.
Comair recommenced flights on December 9 after a business rescue process, while FlySafair, Mango, Airlink and CemAir started flying from June following the relaxation of local Covid-19 travel restrictions.
State-owned South African Airways – which operated domestic, regional and international flights – remains grounded due to its ongoing financial and business rescue woes.
With Lift becoming the sixth airline group to operate scheduled flights in South Africa, Novick concedes that competition is going to be stiff. However, he believes that Lift’s demand-driven and flexible offering will win market share and the hearts of South Africans.
“Comair now also coming online means there [are] going to be a lot of airline seats and the market will be overtraded for a while.… But Lift is a disruptor in the market with its flexible and more customer-focused offering and innovative partnerships,” said Novick.
“Lift has sold more than 30 000 seats since bookings opened in November, so that’s quite a feat in the current market and with concerns around a possible Covid-19 second wave locally,” he added.
“Our flexible offering around tickets allows for customers to be able to cancel or change flights without any issues or additional charges [other than any difference in ticket prices] up to 24 hours before the flight. This is a customer need that we identified which is especially important in these uncertain times,” he added.
As part of its launch offering, Lift has discounted travel for kids under 12 by 50% for a limited booking and travel period.
The group has also partnered with trendy South African brands like online retail giant Superbalist, and coffee chain Vida e Caffè. Its crew are kitted out with clothing from Superbalist, while travellers will be served a complimentary coffee onboard.
Novick said besides supporting local brands and suppliers, Lift has created employment for around 200 people within the new airline itself. This includes pilots and cabin crew as well as ground and support staff.
Thembi Matshinye, who secured a cabin crew position at Lift, said she was relieved to be employed back in the airline industry.
“I have worked in the industry for some 20 years, including at Emirates,” she said. “Covid-19 has really devastated the airline industry worldwide and many people have lost their jobs. It’s exciting for me to be back in the air and I really hope the industry recovers as soon as possible.”