LONDON – During this pandemic, many airlines have been stripping back their operations to save costs.
In the eyes of Wizz Air (W6), this is the complete opposite.
We have seen announcements that have encouraged growth for the airline, as opposed to reductions. With the airline launching new bases out of Doncaster and London Gatwick, it seems the carrier is thinking well beyond this virus.
As well as its continued expansion in Europe, the carrier has been focusing on one market in particular. Abu Dhabi.
Airways got the opportunity to sit down with W6 CEO József Varadi and ask seven questions about it’s newest Middle eastern hub at Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) and its importance to the carrier.
AW: Mr. Varadi. Thank you so much for sitting down with us. We start off with the basics. Why did Wizz Air choose Abu Dhabi for the next step in its international operations?
JV: Abu Dhabi is a very scalable opportunity for Wizz Air and what we can achieve there is comparable to what we have achieved in Europe.
Abu Dhabi’s great geopolitical location supports our plans to develop and diversify our route network, enabling us to provide ultra-low-cost connections to multiple locations – and we expect that Wizz Air Abu Dhabi (5W) will operate 50 aircraft within 10 years.
This will ramp up the local tourism industry in Abu Dhabi, creating demand in the country to benefit its growing economic diversity.
AW: With Etihad being the biggest presence at AUH, do you see any competitive problems arising, or is the airline operating to certain destinations that Etihad is not?
JV: There is a growing demand for low-cost travel in the region, and with no UAE airport having ever been used as a base for a low-cost carrier which originated outside of the Middle East, our new base at Abu Dhabi is the first of its kind.
What we bring to the UAE is unique – a lower cost and more efficient model than any other airline.
AW: Wizz Air has taken on some A321neos/LR aircraft. Is this aircraft going to be a key part to the Abu Dhabi strategy and do you see the airline potentially acquiring larger aircraft to cope with demand down the line?
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.
These aircraft will have the lowest environmental footprint and the lowest cost base among its competitors in the region, which is an important part of our strategy to reduce our unit cost and environmental footprint by 30% for every passenger by 2030.
We have ambitions to grow our fleet in Abu Dhabi to more than 50 aircraft and have some long-range aircraft on order arriving from 2023 onward, which could enable us to fly longer-haul routes, up to 8 hours.
AW: Before COVID, Wizz Air had a strong point-to-point model of transport. Will this change in the New Normal times?
JV: Our point-to-point model has made us resilient during the pandemic and able to recover quicker than those airlines that rely on connecting long haul traffic.
AW: I am checking the initial routes and all are Eastern European cities. How about the UK? Is a Luton-Abu Dhabi route in the plans? Especially with the airline having a significant focus around that airport?
JV: We will focus on establishing routes to markets in which we have existing high growth operations, namely Central and Eastern and Western Europe, as well as the Indian subcontinent, Middle East and Africa further down the line.
Our long-haul capacity aircraft on order to arrive from 2023 will make these longer trips possible and we are always looking out for new opportunities.
We will announce new routes as and when they happen.
AW: Are there any plans to develop partnerships with other tourism related industries in AUH?
JV: Strategic cooperation is already established with the Department of Culture and Tourism to promote Abu Dhabi as a leading destination and to contribute to the growing tourism industry.
AW: Is there anything that you wish to pitch to our readers regarding these operations as a way to conclude proceedings?
We are committed to connecting Abu Dhabi with the most sought-after global destinations.
Despite what has been a challenging time for the industry, the fact that we are not delaying our Wizz Air Abu Dhabi plans positively reflects our resilience and capability to stimulate consumer demand.
We are pressing ahead to support Abu Dhabi’s diversified economic strategy, driving traffic to the country and providing travelers with the opportunities to discover its cultural and touristic gems.
AW: Mr. Varadi, thank you for your time.
It remains clear that looking ahead, 5W will be a force to be reckoned with, especially for Etihad Airways (EY).
With a low-cost long-haul model being adopted in that corner of the world, it will open up AUH to a new market of tourism, one that focuses on low-cost.
How EY and even Emirates (EK) will respond in the future will be key, especially with the networks already hosted within Europe.
For now, only time will tell how the market will respond, and as Wizz Air prepares to receive its first Airbus A321neo for the AUH wing, things will no doubt hot up.
Featured Image: Wizz Air Airbus A321-271N in Hamburg. Photo: Airbus