In September 2003, a group of six airline executives from different backgrounds saw an untapped market in Eastern Europe. Spearheaded by ex Malev executive Jozef Varadi, Wizz Air was born. On the 19th May 2004, Wizz Air’s first flight took off from Katowice to London Luton. With EU expansion, Wizz Air capitalised on the increasing number of people moving to Western Europe as well as adventurous travelers keen to explore. A growing middle class in Eastern Europe and a small percentage of people flying meant huge growth potential.
Ultra Low Cost Philosophy
Wizz Air operates on an ‘ultra low cost philosophy’, keeping strict control of spending and a simple business model. Operating a single aircraft type, namely the Airbus A320 family, has kept crew training and maintenance costs low as has flying to secondary airports such as London Luton among others. Offering a single class, direct booking via the Wizz Air app, ticketless travel and only paying for the extra services a customer needs has all helped to streamline the airline.
Wizz Air has grown from being a small low-cost airline to one of the key players in the European market. It has seen massive exponential growth over the last 15 years, carrying over 200 million passengers. The airline floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2015. The Wizz fleet consists of 120 A320 family aircraft, with the lowest average fleet age in Europe of 4.7 years. It employees 4500 people around Europe and operates 710 routes to 154 airports around Europe. It has a UK subsidiary and intends to open Wizz Air Abu Dhabi in late 2020.
Corona Virus and repatriation flights
Wizz is operating at under 10% of normal capacity, however, it has taken on a number of special repatriation flights. Two aircraft flew to the USA and Canada to repatriate Hungarians and there are flights to China, bringing home medical supplies. With cash reserves of €1.5bn Wizz Air has one of the highest liquidity levels of any airline in Europe. Varadi remains bullish in the face of the corona crisis – ‘Wizz Air is one of the strongest airlines in the world in terms of liquidity…. If we wouldn’t fly a single flight, we could still finance ourselves for about three years.’ Varadi has said that as the virus causes other airlines to fail, Wizz will be an ideal position to take advantage of new opportunities across Europe.
Only time will tell whether these predictions are correct, but it is clear that if any airline is to survive this crisis, Wizz Air has a high chance.