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LIFT’S expansion has finally got wings

LIFT’S expansion has finally got wings

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LIFT’s expansion has finally got wings.

This as it announced on Thursday the launch of the Johannesburg-Durban route in what the airliner said was its first step in connecting the popular ‘Golden Triangle’ between Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

Bookings for the Johannesburg-Durban route are set to go live on Thursday and the first flights will start operating on October 26 with three return flights per day. Booking dates for the Cape Town-Durban route will be confirmed in the coming weeks, with flights expected to operate from November.

Following Comair’s liquidation in June, South Africa’s newest airliner, LIFT, said it would be expediting its growth plans to more than double its current aircraft fleet as well as expand its route network.

LIFT currently has three Airbus A320-200s in its fleet, with plans ahead to buy more aircraft.

LIFT Airline co-founder and chief executive Jonathan Ayache told Business Report at the time that plans to expand its fleet and route network were being expedited following Comair’s exit and as part of this they would be looking to recruit new staff and absorb as many of those impacted by the Comair liquidation.

The news comes as global air travel is recovering after being decimated amid the Covid-19 lockdowns.

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) expects overall traveller numbers to reach 4.0 billion in 2024 (counting multi-sector connecting trips as one passenger), exceeding pre-Covid-19 levels (103 percent of the 2019 total).

LIFT will benefit from people returning to airports and flights and also without Comair as a rival in the skies. Comair had held a 40% share of domestic air travellers in South Africa.

In addition to the new route, LIFT said on Thursday that it would be increasing its flight frequency between Johannesburg and Cape Town with up to 14 flights per day.

Ayache said they could not be “more excited” to add Durban to their list of destinations as it was one of the most common requests they received on social media and had been on their radar for a while.

“We’re also adding four aircraft to our fleet, which has been done using flexible capacity and can easily be increased or decreased based on demand. This growth in our fleet and new routes will create more than 100 new jobs before the end of the year.

“It’s been a challenging two years, but looking ahead we expect the market to recover to pre-pandemic levels in late 2023, and for a second year in a row we will be doubling our seat capacity,” Ayache said.

Welcoming this route launch, the KZN Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC, Siboniso Duma, said: “We are looking forward to LIFT’s launch and to welcoming thousands of tourists to our shores. The recent launch of Tourism Month on 15 September 2022 demonstrated our readiness to host visitors that have chosen to make KwaZulu-Natal their destination of choice.”

Durban mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said this was great news for the city.

“LIFT’s launch and an additional domestic airline in travelling to Durban is critical for tourism and will support those wanting to visit over the coming festive season. We warmly welcome LIFT as it will unlock domestic tourism.”

Hamish Erskine, Durban Direct co-chair and CEO of the Dube TradePort Special Economic Zone, said the airline promised a unique experience for the KwaZulu-Natal traveller while providing South Africans with another competitive option to connect between Gauteng and KZN.

Phindile Makwakwa, co-chair of Durban Direct and acting CEO of KwaZulu-Natal Tourism, noted the KZN market had been eagerly awaiting the establishment of this new and exciting air service by LIFT.

“The airline adds additional seat capacity to the Durban market, which improves access to our destination for both our business and leisure travellers. The importance of air transport to South Africa continues to be highlighted by the role that domestic and international airlines play in the movement of people, commodities and investments that fuel our economic development,” she said.

The airliner said market conditions since its launch in December 2020 had been extremely challenging because of the multiple Covid waves, which had a major impact on the demand for flights. In addition, it said the cost of fuel had been increasing and had doubled over the past 12 months.

Despite this, LIFT said it had enjoyed great success in the 18 months since its launch.


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