As the world airlines are in absolute turmoil with mass lay-offs and more and more airlines declaring bankruptcy almost daily, South Africa, unfortunately, were not spared in any way. Mr Gidon Novick the Founder of Kulula.com has proposed starting a new airline. We all know the drama that has unfolded at South African Airways, the Covid-19 pandemic was but the final nail in the proverbial coffin, and their demise will most likely drag Mango off the playing field as well. Comair is currently in business rescue, SA Air Express has all but been relegated to annuals of history, although the staff are hatching a hopeful plan to revive the airline. FlySafair and SA Airlink seem to have got everything right once again and they are the only “large” airline in South Africa that are going ahead at full steam or as close to that as allowable under the restrictions.
With the success of Kulula and Comair in his history, Novik’s venture may just be what the SA traveller needs. Gidon possesses a wealth of airline knowledge, he basically grew up in Comair, and later became the CEO. In his term as Comair’s top man, he introduced “Low Cost” airlines to South Africa in the form of Kulula.com, which proved to be a great success for many years. Novick, however, believes the term “low-cost airlines” is an outdated term. “All airlines have to be low-cost airlines otherwise they don’t have a right to even play a part in the industry.” Mr Novick said in an interview.
When asked about the timing of the new airline Novick eluded to the resetting of the entire world airline industry after the COVID-19 upset. “For many of us, we have been put under pressure with COVID-19 in many respects, and so efficiency is forefront in our minds. And on the flip side, there’s the opportunity for creativity. This is the time where traditional, normal ways of thinking don’t necessarily solve the problems that we are faced with and those two things have really got my mind racing towards the opportunity that I see in the airline industry.”
“Obviously it’s opportunistic, in terms of the availability of all the key inputs into an airline, starting with aircraft facilities, and really high-quality people. Unfortunately, many people are really keen to get back into the industry. So, I think when you put all of that together there’s an opportunity to create something new something fresh, something super-efficient. And something that resonates with the market where the market is today … it’s a very unique situation that we find ourselves in.”
At this stage, Mr Novick isn’t volunteering too much information on the plans for the airline other than that they will initially operate on the Cape Town – Johannesburg route, which just happens to be the 11th busiest in the world. “it’s a proper route. It’s a good distance. You can’t easily drive between the two cities; it’s got a great mix of traffic. It’s also a route that I know fairly well and has a great comfort level with. So that is certainly the starting route. And it will be the focus of the business for some time and obviously you know, it needs the bigger gauge.”Novick said,
As to aircraft they seem to be leaning towards the Larger Narrow-bodies, “We’re only really interested in the bigger narrow-bodies and the 180 odd seater aircraft. I’m not getting into deep aircraft discussion right now, but the kind of a 321 size or 737-900, that’s quite an interesting aircraft but again, new, would be too expensive for us. But it lends itself well to that kind of a route.”
With the current glut of unemployed airline pilots and crew, the airline can hand-pick a team of dedicated crew ensuring that only the best people are invited to join, which can be seen as an advantage over existing airlines that are restarting and having to contend with the HR nightmare that has been caused by the pandemic.
The new, as yet unnamed airline, could become a major player in the domestic airline industry. Their fixed cost management approach and minimizing debt as far as possible may well put them in a very good place to compete in this domestic and regional industry, no matter how uncertain it is presently.