Pandemic strategy paying off for Wizz Air

Bernie Baldwin

The carrier believes the different approach to operations adopted during the pandemic is really paying off.

The carrier is now working to bring in the new aircraft it ordered at that time, continuing the climb to 500 fleet aircraft. This was Wizz Air’s chief network officer Evelin Jeckel’s message to delegates.

A former Ryanair executive, Jeckel admitted that her previous employer was “a good school”, but argued that Wizz Air is more entrepreneurial when it comes to expansion. The fleet growth plan was one of the reasons she made the switch. The network plan, too, played a part.

“We’re not afraid to expand beyond Europe. Look at our expansion in Abu Dhabi; we went from zero to eight aircraft and counting. We went into Saudi Arabia and put in a million seats on a yearly basis, ”she remarked. “We seek out opportunities before others recognise them. With Saudi Arabia , we jumped at that, and this is our strategy for any new opportunity.”

Wizz Air’s 3Q 2022 results showed substantial losses, mainly due to a strategic decision not to hedge on fuel. Although that came back to bite the company, Jeckel reviewed the scenario differently.

“I would rather reflect on the last three years, divided into pre-pandemic and post-pandemic. We did a really good job from a network perspective during Covid. We expanded in markets that were previously not available to us and made investments when others retracted. We did not sit in the corner and cry; we made something out of the situation. And I think we’ll see the positive outcome of that in the coming years,” the CNO observed.

“We bought slots in Gatwick and have five aircraft there now. We expanded very rapidly in Italy, going to 25 aircraft during next summer from zero before the pandemic. We expanded into Abu Dhabi and Albania, a country in which we were relatively small but now have 10 aircraft. We developed these markets really fast.

”80% of what’s planned for the year ahead will be densification in existing markets, one example being the UK – an important market. Luton is now a base, but there were exits at Cardiff and Doncaster Sheffield, though some of those services switched to nearby Leeds Bradford.

“We grew in Gatwick and so far the product has been accepted quite well, due to our destinations. It’s not just the Palmas and Malagas, but a bit more exotic,” Jeckel commented. “The UK continues to be more difficult environment than Europe or the Middle East from an economic perspective, but it’s a country where we persevere.”

As for Wizz Air’s move into Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, Jeckel is confident. “Abu Dhabi is interesting. A couple of years ago, I was sceptical, though I was probably still rather ‘Ryanair-branded’ at that point. What you have to recognise is that we have a fundamental competitive advantage with cost, our cost base is about 20%-30% lower than the next best competitor, Air Arabia,” she claimed.

“With that you’re able to bring a good product, very attractive aircraft, very good destinations, and now it’s all about density. I get messages showing TikTok videos from airports of young people travelling from the UAE to Europe or to CIS countries. We’re seeing now how well the product is actually working with customers there.

Saudi Arabia is different, Jeckel continued. “It’s not the experience you might expect. And as a woman, I had my reservations about going there during negotiations, but I found it an open minded country with a drive to change. They have the ambition to get 200 million tourists by 2030, which is extremely ambitious coming from around 60 million now. And we’re happy to be part of that development.”

With so many new aircraft coming in, including the extra long-range A321XLRs from 2024, Jeckel was asked if JetBlue’s example of crossing the Atlantic inspires thought of where Wizz Air might go.

“We are looking more towards the east. So, the Indian subcontinent and beyond into Asia. Also we’d look at parts of Africa that we cannot reach at the moment. The primary focus is getting the aircraft, because I think finding the markets will be an easier task,” Jeckel declared.

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5-7 Jun 2024
Curaçao