Wizz Air is probably right to steer clear of trying its hand at long-haul flights, at least for the moment. CEO József Váradi's assessment seems correct — the industry is still waiting for the right aircraft to come along.
You don’t become one of the most successful budget carriers around by taking potentially expensive risks, and Wizz Air isn’t going to follow some of its rivals in embarking on a low-cost, long-haul strategy, at least not until the right aircraft appears.
The central and eastern European specialist has steadily increased both revenue and profit over the last five years. It’s still a small player in overall terms, but it makes money and is growing — and you can’t say that about all European airlines.
What Wizz Air does right isn’t a mystery. It has a ruthless focus on costs and sticks to what it knows best. And it doesn’t sound like this will change anytime soon even when it starts getting its hands on the next generation of aircraft.
As part of a mega airline order with sister carriers JetSMART and Frontier Airlines — all three count Indigo Partners as a major shareholder — Wizz Air will get 20 Airbus A321XLRs, which are capable of flying for around eight hours.
That would bring the eastern part of the United States and Canada into play as well as Asia for some of Wizz Air’s bases but CEO József Váradi wants to keep the focus on the carrier’s existing network, which includes the Canary Islands in the west and Dubai in the east — a span of around 10 hours, rather than looking transatlantic. In practice this means building incrementally on the six-hour flights it currently offers.
“The operational parameters are all so different. You have to have a differently classified aircraft to fly over the Atlantic. Aircraft turnaround times are different. Infrastructure, cost of crew are different,” he told an audience at WTM London on Tuesday.
“We don’t want to change the business model, we want to stick to the very same business model [that] we are operating today. We are just extending the range to the customer.”
Even with the extended range of the A321XLR, Váradi doesn’t think there is the right plane currently out there to operate on a truly efficient low-cost, long-haul business.
“I don’t think wide-body is the answer. You need to have a super-efficient long-range narrow-body aircraft to disrupt the market; that aircraft is not yet out there. And I’m not sure this is the XLR — maybe it’s one step further, but once you have the technology…maybe there is a way of figuring it out,” he said.
Váradi thinks it will happen at some point, but it will likely be in the medium to long term.
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Photo credit: A Wizz Air aircraft. The airline has no plans to go long-haul — at least not yet. Wizz Air