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Lift CEO: Legacy Airline Models Are Broken

South Africa’s aviation industry has been massively transitioning in recent years. Veterans have gone through financial and operational turmoil while new players are emerging. Jonathan Ayache, the CEO of recently-launched Lift, expresses that the legacy model is broken and that the industry needs to adapt.

Lift has been disrupting the market since launching in December 2020. Photo: Getty Images

Challenging conditions

The pandemic has introduced a new level of uncertainty for every airline on the scene. The likes of Comair, Kulula and South African Airways-owned Mango had to suspend flights this summer amid travel restrictions. Notably, the latter recently entered business rescue proceedings.

Even Lift has had to cancel 190 services. Ayache notes that there has also been a huge amount of cyclicality in demand due to the different waves of the virus. As a result, passenger volumes have ranged between 20% – 60% of 2019 levels in South Africa.

Nonetheless, Lift’s modern approach, which consists of an agile and flexible business model, allows the airline to have a significant edge in how it manages this volatility. The carrier can pass this flexibility to passengers who can change or cancel their flights up to 24 hours before they depart.

Passenger operations have shaken up in South Africa over the last few years – is a new take needed? Photo: Getty Images

Flexibility needed

This July saw the lowest volumes since December 2020 as leisure travel was banned in and out of Lift’s hub of OR Tambo International Airport. However, the airline’s leadership concludes that agility is key. With this flexibility, the carrier is regularly engaging with passengers to understand what new service offerings and other enhancements can be made to improve their overall experience.

“Legacy airline models are broken. COVID has exposed its weaknesses and created an opportunity to start afresh with a low cost base, highly agile model with a focus on service, innovation and the smart use of technology,” Ayache told Simple Flying.

“Our mission is to demonstrate that South Africa can compete with the best while keeping customers at the centre of our operations. And, we know we can do it. We live in the most magnificent country with an abundance of talented, special people. We aspire to be a disruptive, innovative and loved South African brand and will keep partnering with like-minded brands and people to do this. This is a challenging industry for sure, but we have what it takes to succeed.”

Jonathan Ayache is looking to revitalize the market. Photo: Getty Images

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fresh outlook

Lift’s customer-focused approach has been evident from the beginning. In October, the airline asked the South African public to recommend its name, and the name Lift beat 25,000 suggestions due to the title’s optimistic theme. Then, in November, the airline once again asked the country’s population to help it choose its Airbus A320 livery.

Ayache used to be an Uber executive, and some lessons learned at his former company can be applied to the new outfit, especially when it comes to modernizing operations. He shares that one aspect is making everyone feel like an owner in the business, which translates into passion, enthusiasm, and a combined effort towards success. The other factor is about being customer-focused in everything his firm is doing.

Overall, the South African aviation industry has undoubtedly needed a refresh following recent events. South African Airways’ passenger services have been grounded since May 2020 and had been in business rescue for 17 months until May this year. There is hope for the airline as it returns to the air this month. However, the market has considerably changed in the last year and a half. So, legacy carriers such as this may have to come with a fresh stance in the new climate.

What are your thoughts about Lift and its operations? What do you make of the overall South African aviation industry? Let us know what you think of the market and its prospects in the comment section.

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