Wizz Air Holdings Plc is plotting a major expansion at London Gatwick airport this week, as other rival carriers such as Virgin Atlantic and British Airway made move to pull out, paving the way for the Hungarian low-cost carrier to emerge from the travel downturn with a bigger presence in the world’s busiest city for passenger traffic.
The carrier recently opened a new hub in Abu Dhabi and is looking to expand the future of its operations.
Wizz, Europe’s third-biggest discounter, is keen to expand its U.K. business beyond a base at Luton, north of London, if it can get hold of the operating slots, Chief Executive Officer Jozsef Varadi said Wednesday in a phone interview. He said he’d like to turn Gatwick, located south of the capital city, into its second British hub.
An opening emerged at Gatwick this week, Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd said it will pull out and focus on London Heathrow to help ride out the Covid-19 pandemic. British Airways is reportedly looking to do the same, and with Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, Gatwick’s No. 3 tenant, retrenching to survive the winter, the once full airport could soon have space for new entrants.
“Any expansion at Gatwick is contingent on being able to secure ownership of operating slots, as he wants to avoid taking over capacity temporarily only to hand it back later.
Business at Gatwick was booming before the coronavirus crisis crushed demand and prompted groundings of entire airline fleets. The airport, traditionally a leisure hub, had aspired to snag some of Heathrow’s full-service passengers, with French owner Vinci SA seeking to convert an emergency runway for regular use.
Wizz said this week that it will launch five new routes from Luton next month in anticipation of the U.K. lockdown being eased. The services to Greece and Portugal could be operated immediately under current conditions should Wizz have wished, according to Varadi, who said he sees no obstacle to the flights.
Passengers and crew will be required to wear face masks and the latter gloves, with onboard purchases made via contactless card, no magazines on offer, and only a limited food service. Cabins will undergo an antiviral fogging process.
While Wizz said it will enforce physical distancing measures, passengers will most likely be kept apart because of low initial demand and there are no plans to limit occupancy levels or block off middle-row seats, Varadi said.
The CEO reaffirmed that Wizz plans to take delivery of the hundreds of jetliners it has on order from Airbus SE, including 22 in the next 14 months, even as many other carriers shrink their operations. He said there are regular “business-like” discussions with the planemaker.