Why Wizz Air Has Become Eastern Europe’s Flight Of Fancy
BUCHAREST, Romania – Central and Eastern Europe’s budget airline Wizz Air revealed last week that it carried over 20 million passengers for the first time in a rolling year in 2015, and that it will add new routes to its remit and new aircraft to its fleet as it continues on its expanding flight path.
Set to benefit heavily from the company’s new fleet of Airbus A321 planes, which have a 230-passenger capacity — 50 seats more than the airline’s majority Airbus A320 stock — are its busiest routes, such as those between Bucharest and London.
The company currently has a growth rate of 20%, and expects to see 24% growth next year.
But what is behind the airline’s continued success, which has allowed it to become Central and Eastern Europe’s largest budget airline?
As Eastern European countries have increasingly joined the European Union – with some joining before 2004, others later – demand for cheap flights from east to west, for holiday-makers and those living and working in countries such as the UK, has risen dramatically.
Many Eastern Europeans have moved to Western European countries in search of better job opportunities and higher wages. Wizz Air arrived at a perfect moment to benefit from this.
But what also appears to have helped Wizz Air’s growth on top of such migrant flows is the airline’s ability to retain cheap fares and a more general trend in air travel across EU member states.
Eurostat data comparing figures from 2014 and 2015 show growth in passenger volume in 26 out of 28 EU member states — recording collectively a year-on-year rise of 4.4 %. The countries that showed the most impressive growth were Slovakia and Romania, with 22% and 17% respectively.
Wizz Air appears keen to open up domestic routes in countries like Romania, ones that are set up well for it geographically, for various reasons.
‘Demand is dominated on east to west flows, but domestic flying is a bit difficult from a commercial standpoint because you compete with road infrastructure and trains, but given the geographic size of Romania domestic flights are strategically important to us,’ Wizz Air CEO Jozsef Varadi told me.
In countries like Romania, where road and rail infrastructure is generally poor and underdeveloped, it’s not difficult to see the appeal of domestic flights linking up key cities: the journey from the capital, Bucharest, to the northern city of Cluj takes roughly eleven hours by train, compared to just 55 minutes by plane. Prices aren’t vastly different, either.
In the past few years the airline has also opened up some key international routes, offering affordable flights for Eastern Europeans to places as far-flung as Tel Aviv and Dubai.
Wizz Air saw a net increase of 65 routes in 2015, which is the airline’s biggest annual increase since it launched 12 years ago. This summer it will have over 415 routes, covering 39 different countries, and it recently put in a bid to run five new routes from Budapest, which would see the airline become a major player in linking the Hungarian capital to Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro.
The company’s busiest routes, however, will likely remain between airports in Central and Eastern Europe, and Western Europe — where supply follows demand.
However, the airline has new regional competition to deal with. Irish budget airline Ryanair — which annually carries five times as many passengers than Wizz Air — is expanding in the region. This year it has announced new bases in the region, all of which are currently served by Wizz Air, creating competition that will certainly help to keep passenger fares down.
A combination of factors appear to be behind the Hungarian airline’s success, from migrant flows to general trends in EU travel, to its customer-guided development that has seen the company launch an ‘Express Booking’ feature on its website, enabling customers to book flights in no more than three clicks.
‘We are listening to our passengers and making booking flights even easier,’ Varadi told me.
Since Wizz Air first took to the skies in 2004 it has grown strongly, and providing it can beat off its rivals, no easy feat, it looks set to continue its ambitious ascent.