Gidon Novick is forging ahead with his plans to launch a new domestic airline during 2020, before the South African school holiday season.
Well-respected in aviation circles, Gidon, who is best known as the founder of kulula.com, plans to launch Johannesburg-Cape Town as the new airline’s first route this year. And he bullishly predicts robust demand for the domestic December holiday season.
“We are still on track to launch before the end of the year and believe that after many long months of lockdown, South Africans need a break. Even if our borders reopen before December there will still be strong demand for local holidays, as people are still constrained by limited budgets and last-minute notice. To start we want to keep things simple with the launch of a single route with decent frequencies that we have experience of running in the past.”
Gidon’s team are also eyeing a few regional routes which they identified as “interesting from the outset” although no route applications have been made. Gidon says while regional routes tend to deliver better yields than domestic ones, an airline has to find a way to balance this with the higher costs that those routes tend to incur.
The airline’s business model will be based on a joint venture between Gidon and Global Aviation, a full-service aircraft leasing company and licensed domestic airline that has been operating for almost 20 years.
Gidon has extensive experience operating B737-800s at kulula.com. He says Boeing and Airbus both make great aircraft, but the new airline will be leveraging off Global Aviation’s existing A320 fleet as well as its expertise, crew, operating licence and other infrastructure. He adds that SAA’s fleet primarily consists of Airbus aircraft and that there is an abundance of trained Airbus crew in the market at present.
Gidon stresses that the new airline will be targeting a cost base 30% lower than existing operators, saying that while the flying market is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic and uncertainty over future demand patterns, several factors are uniquely favourable for the launch of a new airline.
“The opportunity is to leverage off record low input costs and an abundance of talented and skilled people. There are also significant relative cost advantages of starting afresh and unencumbered by the legacy costs that many domestic competitors are currently grappling with,” added Gidon.
The new airline’s vision is to simplify the flying process by bringing together industry experts, fresh perspectives, technological advantages and strategic approaches. As such, ex-Uber Africa executive Jonathan Ayache has joined the team and he says there is huge opportunity for the airline industry to rethink its relationship with passengers and be more “customer obsessed”.
‘Flying can be an unnecessarily complicated process that creates a lot of anxiety for passengers from the booking process right through to check-in and boarding. These stresses are further heightened in a post-COVID world due to the additional checks that are now in place. We want to be extremely mindful of the anxiety at each touch point in our user experience and to leverage insights from customer service experts with technological developments to ensure that airline rules are applied in a manner that ensures our passengers are treated with dignity and respect at all times,” says Gidon.