Wizz Air to double operations outside Europe by 2015

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Wizz Air expects to double its operational presence outside of Europe over the next 12 to 18 months, chief executive József Váradi said in a media briefing at the Routes Europe conference in Budapest this week.

The Hungarian low-cost carrier (LCC) has spread its reach beyond European borders during the past year, announcing new services to Kutaisi in Georgia, Baku in Azerbaijan, Tel Aviv in Israel and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

It also operates subsidiary Wizz Air Ukraine at Kiev Zhuliany airport, where it has based three Airbus A320s.

"Slowly but surely we have been moving towards the East," Váradi confirms, adding that Europe's economic difficulties have been "forcing us to look around and consider alternatives for growth in new markets".

"We think that those markets are under-penetrated, certainly by the LCC sector. We can stimulate those markets...What you see right now is probably half of what we are going to be doing in a year to 18 months from now."

Asked which countries are being targeted for expansion, Váradi says anywhere within five-hours flying time of a Wizz Air base will be considered.

"We need to keep in mind the physical range an A320 can perform," he notes. "You might get into places like Asia big-time, but not necessarily from a Hungarian perspective. More from a perspective of a closer neighbourhood, to serve the particular needs of that market."

Váradi suggests that countries which show willingness to liberalise their regulatory landscape and ease bilateral restrictions will be prioritised by the low-cost carrier.

Such challenges are still being encountered in existing markets, he admits, citing "genuine difficulty" by Wizz Air Ukraine in gaining market access.

"Ukraine is still the old-school system. A bilateral regulatory regime governs the airline industry there," Váradi explains. But he also points to evidence of reform, adding that the failure of Aerosvit in December 2012 has "changed the attitude of the regulator to some extent".

"I certainly wouldn't call the country an open market regime, but it is more flexible than it used to be," he says.

The Hungarian chief executive emphasises that Wizz Air will not alter its seat configuration for any upcoming eastern routes, though it will consider introducing unspecified new "service components" on longer flights.