Varadi to go east with Wizz Air

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Wizz Air chief executive Jozsef Varadi plans to expand the central European budget carrier’s network outside the European Union and to the east, as it continues to push forward with its high growth strategy.

Varadi says Wizz is “looking towards the east” and will next year launch service to several undisclosed destinations, although he recognises that this will not be without its challenges.

“Once you step out of the European Union, you are subject to bilateral agreements. But we are working on those and will start a number of new markets in 2008 that are outside the EU and to the east,” says Varadi. He declines to specify which markets are under consideration.

Wizz Air operates out of three bases in Poland – Gdansk, Katowice and Warsaw. The carrier also has bases in Bucharest, Budapest and Sofia, and will open a seventh base in the Polish city of Poznan in January. From its new base, Wizz will operate flights to Doncaster-Sheffield and Glasgow Prestwick in the UK, as well as Malmo and Oslo in Scandinavia.

Low-cost competition
Varadi acknowledges the high level of competition in the carrier’s markets from other low-cost carriers, but claims Wizz is “the lowest cost airline in central and eastern Europe”. Competition is also high in the region from other modes of transport and, according to Varadi, only between 3% and 4% of people in eastern Europe travel by air.

“We are competing with other means of transport and we are trying to move people from taking the coach and the train to flying. There is a huge market to capture,” he says.

Wizz Air was founded in 2003 by Varadi, formerly the chief executive of Malev Hungarian Airlines. The carrier began operations from Katowice in May 2004 with a fleet of six Airbus A320s, and has been growing ever since. Wizz’s fleet will reach 19 A320s by next summer, and this will grow to over 50 aircraft by 2012.

“We fly to almost all European countries and we follow the low-cost model, so we prefer secondary airports,” says Varadi. Wizz is a privately-held company and Varadi declines to provide details of its financial performance, except to say that “given our growth rate and the size of our operation, financially we are doing fine”.

He adds that the carrier “continues to look at [its] options” regarding the possibility of launching an initial public offering some time in the future, but stresses that no decision has yet been reached.

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