During the very first Arabian Travel Market (ATM) Virtual, the CEO of Wizz Air, Joszef Varadi, highlighted his vision for the low-cost carrier’s impending move to operate out of Abu Dhabi.
“If you look at what we’ve been able to achieve in the EU, we managed to grow our fleet to 100 aircraft over the last 15 years and we should be able to do the same thing in Abu Dhabi,” he said. “You should be looking at our platform, not necessarily just Abu Dhabi, we want to serve the UAE and possibly the broader GCC markets.”
Now in its 16th year of operation, Wizz Air employs over 4,500 people and flew 40 million passengers to 151 airports in 44 countries on 710 routes in 2019. The airline boasts a young fleet of 120 Airbus aircraft with an option to buy a further 20 Airbus A321XLR aircraft – the most cost-efficient aircraft of its type.
During his interview, Varadi commented on the current situation and the desire to travel, versus the ability to travel. He explained that his customers, especially younger customers, were motivated to travel, however, the inconsistent response from various governments to the COVID-19 outbreak was not supporting the industry. He explained that a framework of regulations is needed to enable aviation to recover.
“Airports did well after 9/11, introducing heightened security measures, and we need similar measures regarding health and safety. While airports and airlines are quiet it is easier to practice social distancing, but not when we start to become busier,” Varadi noted.
Regarding onboard health and safety, he explained that he believes the industry is stepping up, but measures such as simply blocking the middle seat or implementing onboard distancing, are impractical and will not work.
“There is no scientific evidence to suggest any passengers have contracted the virus while flying. In fact, the air filtration onboard aircraft is comparable with an intensive care unit,” he said, adding: “I do support wearing masks, hand sanitising, disinfecting and reducing the amount of high touch points, such as cash payments for onboard catering and inflight magazines.”
When questioned about surviving the current coronavirus crisis, Varadi enthused: “It’s all about liquidity and what that provides to your business. If we do not fly a single passenger for the next 24 months we will still be in business, so we are well positioned to take advantage of the situation,” he said.
Coming out of the crisis, the ensuing recession will create greater challenges for the industry than the outbreak itself, according to Varadi. In his opinion, short-haul low-cost carriers like Wizz Air will be better placed to recover initially, because the lowest costs prevail. Some passengers will also look to downgrade from legacy carriers to save money.
In terms of corporate travel, companies will look to reduce their expenses post COVID-19, so corporate travel will take longer to recover, but he believes that would also be of benefit to Wizz Air, as businesses look for more cost-effective flights.