Central and Eastern European low-cost operator Wizz Air has confirmed plans to expand its business model into another new market with the launch of its first flights into Moldova. The carrier will inaugurate services to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) country in September 2013 with links to the capital, Chișinău, from Rome Ciampino and Venice Treviso. Each route will be flown on a twice weekly schedule from September 24, 2013.
Wizz Air will be the first budget carrier to launch flights Chișinău International Airport, where operations are currently dominated by state-owned national carrier Air Moldova. Alongside the local entity, airBaltic, Austrian Airlines, Carpatair, Lufthansa, Meridianafly, S7 Airlines and Tarom provide year-round services to destinations across Europe.
There is a sizeable demand for flights between Moldova and Italy due to the high numbers of Moldovans now residing in the country and its wider Diaspora. Rooted between Romania and the Ukraine, the small nation was one of the poorest across the continent subsequent to it emergence from the Soviet Union and in 2002, average annual income per person officially amounted to only €417, just 1.8 per cent of the EU average.
“Wizz Air is committed to deliver low fares to Moldovan people and their visitors and we expect to carry over 60,000 passengers on our two routes between Chisinau and Italy. Individual travelers as well as families and businesses will welcome this exciting development and contribute to job creation and tourism development in Moldova.”Gyorgy Abran
Chief Commercial Officer, Wizz Air
Confronted with economic instability, collapsing incomes, and rapidly rising unemployment that accompanied the fall of the Soviet Union, people first began emigrating from Moldova on a large scale in the first half of the 1990s. The Information and Security Service of the Republic of Moldova has estimated that in excess of one million Moldovan citizens (around a fifth of its total population) are working abroad. Due to the clandestine nature of these migration flows, no official statistics exist but one estimate puts the number of Moldovans in Italy at around 200,000.
The new low-cost schedule from Wizz Air will complement the existing flights between Moldova and Italy. Air Moldova currently provides links from Chișinău to Bologna, Milan Malpensa, Rome Fiumicino and Verona; Meridianfly operates from Bologna, Milan Malpensa and Verona from Chișinău, while Carpatair and its local business Moldavian Airlines offer links from Chișinău to Rome Fiumicino and Venice Marco Polo and will add a service to Bergamo Orio al Serio.
Moldova’s air traffic market has been growing steadily over the past few years as the country has become more integrated with the wider European community after gaining entry to the European Common Aviation Area in June 2012. According to official statistics from Chișinău International Airport, air traffic has almost doubled in the past five years from 688,782 passengers in 2007 to 1,220,496 in 2012.
“Wizz Air is delighted to welcome Moldova in the growing list of countries that benefit of our incredible low fares,” said Gyorgy Abran, Chief Commercial Officer, Wizz Air at the formal announcement of the new routes in Brussels, Belgium, this week following consultation with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova, Iurie Leanca. “The EU Open Skies agreement results in consumer friendly competition and we welcome that Moldova joined Europe’s Common Aviation Area, which eventually will lead to passenger traffic and tourism growth.”
"Wizz Air is committed to deliver low fares to Moldovan people and their visitors and we expect to carry over 60,000 passengers on our two routes between Chisinau and Italy. Individual travelers as well as families and businesses will welcome this exciting development and contribute to job creation and tourism development in Moldova,” he added.
Speaking to The HUB at this year’s Routes Europe forum in Budapest, Hungary in May 2013, Alexander Ciutac, Director of Financial and Administrative Department, Chișinău International Airport confirmed that securing a new low-cost airline partner was the number one priority for the airport. “We have been in discussions with a couple of low-cost carriers for some time and are confident that we will reach a final agreement in the coming months. This is a key growth opportunity for the airport and for the country,” he said. It is understood that alongside Wizz Air, Chișinău International Airport officials have also been in discussions with easyJet about future connectivity, initially from Italy but also from other points across its pan-European network.
According to advanced forecasts, Chișinău International Airport expects to handle an estimated 1.4 million passengers in 2014, representing an average annual growth of 7.4 per cent per annum since 2008. Looking further ahead it predicts passenger numbers to rise to almost 2.7 million in 2025, representing an average annual growth of 6.7 per cent per annum for the period from 2014 to 2025 and Wizz Air could play an important role in hitting and even exceeding these numbers.
Elsewhere, Wizz Air has revealed it will introduce a new four times weekly service between Budapest and Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen from August 2, 2013, increasing to a daily operation by March 2014, subject to regulatory approval. The new link continues the carrier’s eastbound network expansion from Budapest following the earlier introduction of Tel Aviv, Kiev, Baku and Dubai routes. Wizz Air believes the low-fare model of the airline will quickly increase bi-directional tourism and business travel between Hungary and Turkey, stimulating over 70,000 passengers in the first year of operation.
“Istanbul, at the crossways between Europe and Asia, is set to become one of the best selling destinations. The increasing popularity of Turkey as business link and holiday destination will now be more accessible for individual travellers as well as families and businesses,” said Gyorgy Abran.