New South African airline Lift starts flying

South Africa’s new domestic airline Lift started flights on Thursday (10 December) as it aims to carve out space in an industry that has been ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The low-cost carrier will offer two routes as part of its initial offering – Johannesburg to Cape Town, and Johannesburg to George.

The airline is owned by Johannesburg-based leasing company Global Airways and will operate three Airbus SE A320 jets on these routes.

Co-founder Gidon Novick told Bloomberg that the airline is looking to take advantage of plunging startup costs due to an oversupply of planes due to the collapse in demand and low oil prices.

“The opportunity is here now to go into the consumer airline space — especially given the current environment,” he said. “The current cost structures are about 40% lower than what it would have cost to start an airline before the coronavirus.”

The new airline’s staff are kitted out by the online fashion retailer Superbalist and travellers are treated to coffee from Vida e Caffè on morning flights.

Afternoon flights feature wine tasting from a selection of South Africa’s top wineries, which Novick said will give valuable exposure to South Africa’s top wine farms.

Ticket prices start at R525, but Novick said he expects these prices to increase as demand for flights grows. “Prices will go up. There is currently an oversupply in the market which drives prices down. That will change over time,” he said.

Novick has said that the new airline is not planning to engage in a price war with other domestic airlines like Kulula and FlySafair. “Cutting prices is not a sustainable strategy. It is easy to do, but everyone will then lose money.”

He said that customers’ payments will be kept in a separate structure until after the flights are flown — to avoid them losing money in the event the airline goes bust. This is a departure from industry norms globally, he said.

“It’s our basic belief that customers should not fund airlines and neither should governments,” he said. “No rational argument has been put forward that gives anybody confidence that it is necessary to put money into SAA that should have been invested in social projects and health care.”

Read: South Africa opens new battle with unions over airline salaries

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New South African airline Lift starts flying