Wizz Air Abu Dhabi targets 1m passengers in 2021 if travel restrictions ease

Low-cost airline considering adding routes to Gulf region and North Africa

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi. Courtesy Wizz Air

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi aims to carry one million passengers in the first 12 months of its operations through a network of 13 destinations in 11 countries if Covid-19 travel restrictions ease, company officials said.

The carrier is also looking to break-even within three years and could base some of its aircraft in other cities in the region within the next five years, subject to regulations.

"In a situation where the restrictions are mostly removed we have targeted around the one million passenger mark after a 12-month period [and] we will do so with four to six aircraft for that passenger volume," Kees Van Schaick, managing director of Wizz Air Abu Dhabi told The National on Thursday. "It all depends on the speed of recovery when we can start delivering those targets."

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, a joint venture between the Hungarian budget airline and Abu Dhabi state holding company ADQ, will begin operations on Friday with a maiden flight to Athens. It will add the Greek port city of Thessaloniki on February 4 and Tel Aviv in mid-February. The joint venture is part of Abu Dhabi's push to diversify its economy, boost tourism and enhance its air connectivity.

The low-cost airline is also considering adding more routes to cities in the Gulf region and North Africa, Mr Van Schaick said.

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi will focus on segments including visiting friends and family, short-stay holidays and the slower-recovering business travel using a fleet of four Airbus A321Neo aircraft. It could grow to six jets by the end of the year, depending on passenger traffic, he added.

The carrier plans to plans to fly to 13 routes from the UAE capital – mostly in eastern and central Europe but also to Egypt's port city of Alexandria – with the schedule depending on Covid-19 travel restrictions.

The UAE's high rate of vaccinations will accelerate the recovery of air travel demand, particularly short-haul flights that passengers see as less risky than long-haul journeys, Mr Van Schaick said.

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi aims to break even within three years on the basis of the investment made by ADQ and Wizz Air Holdings, Jozsef Varadi, chairman of the Abu Dhabi joint venture and chief executive of Wizz Air, told The National.

"I believe in the next five years this business can grow very substantially, we will see how demand is evolving and how geopolitics are going and on that basis we will be sourcing the right amount of capacity to the market," Mr Varadi said. "In five years, I expect a fleet of anything between 25 to 50 aircraft, depending on market demand and we will have an extended route network."

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi could open several bases in the region within the next five years to expand its footprint, depending on regulations, he added.

"Over time, you may also expect Wizz Air Abu Dhabi to expand beyond Abu Dhabi, depending on how geopolitics play out and whether or not there will be easing of regulatory restrictions, we might be able to start basing these Abu Dhabi operations elsewhere, but again these are subject to regulations." he said. "We can be very creative about what we can achieve in the long run."

Wizz Air, the largest discount carrier in Eastern Europe, is issuing a €500 million ($605.8m) debut bond. The offering of 1.35 per cent notes due in 2024 is expected to close on January 19, subject to customary conditions.

The bond issuance, a result of "favourable" market conditions, is an "insurance policy" for the business amid the volatility unleashed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Varadi said. The airline does not need to use the proceeds from the issue and sees it as a measure for a stronger liquidity position, he said.

Wizz Air will announce its third quarter results for the three months ending December 31 on January 28.