Wizz Air’s UK operation will have four new Airbus A321neos in its fleet by the end of May, after today carrying out its first flight with the Pratt & Whitney GTF-powered narrowbody.

The UK unit of the central European low-cost operator has just taken delivery of two A321neos, bringing its fleet to 12 aircraft. It deployed the type on its first flight today, a service from London Luton to Polish city Poznan.

Wizz Air UK managing director Owain Jones tells FlightGlobal: ”We have had the Neo in the Wizz Air group fleet for a couple of years now, but this is the first time we have brought the Neo to the UK fleet and first time in the UK that the Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan is going on the G-register [of UK registered aircraft].

”We will have a third Neo join the fleet at the end of March, and the fourth will join in May. So that will mean a 40% increase in fleet size from the 10 we had last summer to 14.”

The budget carrier, which has group orders for more than 250 of the re-engined narrowbody, is taking the PW1100G-powered aircraft with a 239-seat layout under the manufacturer’s higher-density cabin flex configuration. It will operate the type alongside its existing 186-seat A320 and 231-seat A321s.

”It’s that happy marriage of something which is great for business, the increased efficiencies of the aircraft, the 20% saving on our unit cost compared to our A320ceos. But equally when you look at the fuel consumption, and therefore emissions and noise [footprint], these are all things that go towards our contribution towards sustainable aviation. Bringing that group-wide Neo fleet is actually a structural change.”

The UK unit has stuck to its plan to increase its fleet to 14 this summer as it bids to exploit demand for leisure travel, despite the travel restrictions that have all but blocked international air travel from the country since the turn of the year.

”There will be a recovery and we remain of the opinion that the short-haul sector will recover quicker than others,” says Jones.

”While we still have some demand on some of our VFR routes to central and eastern Europe, given that the stay-at-home instruction would remain in place until at least 17 May, we felt the pragmatic and fair thing to do is say we are not going to schedule those UK outbound leisure routes before then. We have postponed the opening of Cardiff, postponed the reopening of Doncaster, postponed the reopening of Gatwick until 17 May.”

Though he cautions the recent spike in demand widely reported by operators following the announcement of a potential timeframe for the lifting of travel restrictions by UK prime minister Boris Johnson is from a low base, he says it does further illustrate pent-up demand for people to travel.

”Some people might be a bit more hopeful than others, so when they saw that they thought ‘I’ll book’. But I have no doubt that, as with last summer, when there is a concrete date for people to start travelling there is pent-up demand,” he says.

The airline shifted its network plans to capitalise on the opportunity to tap into the UK-outbound leisure market, which remains the focus of its growth ambitions for the summer. But Jones acknowledges the airline is likely to have to remain flexible in its network plans.

“If you look at what was happening a year ago, we really didn’t have a plan to be flying UK outbound leisure routes. We formulated our plan during April [2020] when we had the fleet grounded and we started implementing from May on. And by June, July we were filling every seat on our flights down to Spain and the Greek islands – places we had never flown before [from the UK]

”And we were agile, so as soon as countries went into more restrictive regimes, we then switched capacity to the less restricted [markets] and we kept the aircraft full and last year we were flying 100% of our UK-based capacity.

”I suspect we will have to have a similar mindset this summer,” Jones notes, adding that the carrier will have to monitor how travel restrictions develop and react accordingly.

“What we have done, like last year, is diversify the network. So we have more Greek island destinations, we have Turkey for the first time. That diversification of network gives us the ability to be agile in shifting capacity where we see those demand patterns,” he says.