New local airline Lift will open its website for bookings on Tuesday (10 November) as it prepares to officially begin operations on 10 December.

Founder Gidon Novick told the Sunday Times that the airline plans to offer flexibility to customers, as well as competitive pricing.

“Anyone who travels with us will have a fully flexible ticket and will be able to change their flight as many times as they want to without fees. Our hypothesis is that with that in mind, people will become more comfortable to book, and less anxious about travelling,” he said.

However, Novick said that the airline doesn’t plan to undercut competitors or start a race to the bottom: “We will focus our efforts on adding value, not cutting prices. We want to redefine the customer journey from start to finish,” he said.

Novick 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.”

Launching in a pandemic

The new airline is a partnership between established operator Global Aviation, Novick, and former Uber executive Jonathan Ayache. A group of highly experienced industry specialists have also joined the team.

Lift will have a low fixed-cost base and no debt, and a flexible staffing and resourcing structure.

It will use Global’s existing infrastructure, aircraft, maintenance facilities, cabin crew and pilots and its central flight control facility, leveraging off Global’s long experience in providing full-service leasing for bespoke charters or to other airlines (Comair included) when they needed backup planes.

Lift will initially operate three aircraft which will fly up to seven return flights a day on the Cape Town and George routes.

Novick has previously said that he is upbeat about the opportunity which the pandemic brings to re-look at traditional business models and find how things can be done differently.

He said the pandemic has created the prospect of affordably acquiring the key inputs to start an airline – aircraft, facilities, and skilled employees. A key focus for Novick is on efficiency and cutting costs, which include leasing aircraft at dramatically reduced rates.

He added that there are high-quality maintenance facilities available which are far cheaper than what they were a few months ago. Through experience he found that airlines get less efficient the larger they get, so starting off small gives a new airline a big advantage.

Another focus for Novick is flexibility. “With the market uncertainty, a flexible model which can adjust to market demand is critical,” he said.

He told MyBroadband technology will play a very important role to increase efficiency. “Technology has the ability to facilitate a seamless, efficient, and engaging relationship with our future customers,” Novick said.

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