With Wizz Air opening up bases across Europe with lightning speed and expanding into new territories, the dynamic Hungarian low-cost carrier is certainly one to watch. Satu Dahl spoke with Wizz Air CEO József Váradi in August to learn more about the airline’s impressive growth.

    Wizz Air has been rapidly growing since the airline’s first flight in 2004. The ambitious airline which had carried over 200 million passengers by 2019 is constantly innovating to expand. In an interesting new development for the low-cost sector, the airline is now operating in the United Arab Emirates. Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, a joint venture between Wizz Air Holdings Plc and ADQ, one of the region’s largest holding companies, will initially add an annual capacity of 350,000 seats to the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

    Wizz Air CEO József Váradi says the airline is dedicated to expanding its presence at the Abu Dhabi base. “We have initially based two brand new Airbus A321neo aircraft there, and four additional Airbus A321neo aircraft will be allocated in the first six months of operations”, Váradi explains. “We have future ambitions to grow this fleet to more than 50 aircraft. Abu Dhabi’s great geopolitical location supports our development plans and enables us to provide low-fare connections to numerous locations, diversifying Abu Dhabi’s economy and helping to ramp up the local tourism and services industries.”

    Wizz Air CEO Váradi József
    Wizz Air CEO József Váradi

    Wizz Air Abu Dhabi has been given a United Arab Emirates national carrier status. “We are honoured to have received the UAE Air Operator Certificate to become a local operator in the United Arab Emirates”, Váradi notes. “Our new base at Abu Dhabi is the first of its kind, with no UAE airport having ever been used as a base for a low-cost carrier which originated outside of the Middle East. This will provide us with a lot of opportunities to introduce new connections to Abu Dhabi.”

    Wizz Air Abu Dhabi will be initially flying to Alexandria, Athens, Kutaisi, Larnaca, Odesa and Yerevan and Váradi says this is just an initial network of six routes. “As we deploy more aircraft and ramp up our operations, we will add more routes, and are always interested in new markets that can accommodate our strong growth. In general, choosing new destinations is based on a combination of sustainable demand and reasonable local airport costs.”

    Abu Dhabi first flight celebration copy
    Wizz Air Abu Dhabi’s first flight celebration

    Fleet for growth

    Wizz Air has a young all-Airbus A320 family fleet and Váradi explains this has benefits for the airline when it comes to costs and the airline’s sustainability goals. “Our Airbus A320 and A320neo fleet has an average age of 5.5 years and operates at the lowest cost per passenger kilometre and at the lowest CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre amongst all competitor airlines”, Váradi notes. “We are committed to developing our sustainable fleet and currently have an order of 265 Airbus A320neo-family aircraft which will enable us to further reduce our unit cost and environmental footprint by 30% for every passenger by 2030.”

    “We already have a diverse route network and with these new orders, will be able to further expand our offer of destinations for our customers. We also have long-range aircraft on order, arriving from 2023 onwards, which could enable us to fly longer-haul routes, up to eight hours”, he continues.

    Russian expansion

    The carrier is also moving to claim a bigger share of the Russian market. In June, Wizz Air announced the opening of the airline’s first Russian base in Saint Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport. Váradi is confident market demand will grow in this region. “The first Wizz Air flight took off from Saint Petersburg in 2017 and, to date, we have carried over 250,000 passengers on our Saint Petersburg routes. With the experience of providing low fare services in the past few years in Russia, we were confident of the demand in this market for affordable travel. We will base one Airbus A320 aircraft at our Saint Petersburg base and will begin operations this autumn.”

    Regarding his priorities for the airline going forward, Váradi confirms his focus is indeed on growth. “Wizz Air is a growth airline, and our focus remains on expansion, as well as diversifying our route network to offer our passengers even more unique and ultra-affordable travel opportunities”, Váradi says. “Unlike other carriers, we have continued to grow throughout the Covid crisis, having announced eight new bases and introduced 211 new routes across the network since April 2020.”

    Váradi is confident the airline will keep growing even in the current extremely challenging market. “We are currently rebuilding our capacity in the wake of the pandemic, and taking into account our planned fleet delivery schedule, expect to grow our capacity by approximately 10% year-on-year by the end of March 2021.”