Wizz Air Continues to Fly to Chopin’s Tune

Central and Eastern European low-cost carrier, Wizz Air, has confirmed it will continue to operate its flights into the Polish capital, Warsaw, via Chopin Airport and it has no plans to return to the new Modlin Airport facility, despite the latter being given clearance to resume flight operations following runway repair work.

Wizz Air had originally been a tenant at Chopin Airport, the main gateway to Warsaw, but like rival budget carrier, Ryanair, it moved its entire operation to the brand new Modlin Airport when it opened for commercial operations in July 2012.  It was forced to return to Chopin in December last year after Modlin was closed due to safety concerns after cracks appeared on its runway and according to the carrier’s Chief Executive Officer, József Váradi, it has now “lost confidence” in Modlin Airport.

Speaking at a press conference in Warsaw to confirm its permanent move back to Chopin, Váradi said: “We have lost all confidence in Modlin Airport,” with an official adding that measures are being taken to gain compensation from Modlin for the additional costs the carrier has had to pay at Chopin for the interim period it has been flying there.  It is understood that Wizz Air has now negotiated a brand new deal with the management at Chopin with suggestions of an up to 85 per cent discount on fees and significant marketing support to promote new route launches through Chopin's new route and increased frequency incentives. “I am pleased today to give assurance and certainty to our passengers and crews who have been subject to unexpected airport changes due to the numerous shortcomings of Modlin Airport,” added Váradi.

The new permanent operation from Chopin will take effect from July 18, 2013 and will initially cover a network of 20 routes across 14 countries.  The carrier has recently announced new routes from Warsaw to Kutaisi, Hurghada, Grenoble, Kharkov and Glasgow and more expansion could be on the way now its long-term Warsaw future has been confirmed.  “We will keep bringing more new routes and more low fares to Warsaw Chopin Airport going forward as you would expect from your hometown airline,” said Váradi.

Wizz Air said it made the initial “temporary” decision to move its operations from Modlin to Chopin during  last year’s Christmas period due to Modlin’s “inability to comply with basic operational requirements needed to ensure smooth flight operations and reliable customer service”.  The airline said the failure of Modlin Airport to install an Instrument Landing System (ILS) before October 2012 caused “major disruptions” resulting in delays, diversions or cancellations of 160 flights affecting over 30,000 passengers between October and December 2012 and the subsequent closure of the airport by the Polish Civil Aviation Authority gave it “no other choice”, but to transfer operations to Chopin at that time.

According to Wizz Air, this week’s announcement will be welcomed favourably by its passengers following customer feedback on the travel experience in Warsaw.  The findings of the 4,000 passenger survey revealed that over 70 per cent of them disliked the poor accessibility of Modlin, according to Wizz Air and felt that any savings on airfares are more than offset by the increased costs and time of travel to the airport.

Wizz Air said the lower airport fees it had secured at Modlin “have been largely outweighed” by high disruption costs, making Modlin “a high cost airport”.  The lack of an ILS and subsequent long closure of the runway “undermined Wizz Air’s trust in Modlin,” it added.  It is not clear if Wizz Air’s decision will sway Ryanair’s decision on its future Warsaw operations but it will certainly provide it with additional leverage to secure a more competitive deal at Modlin as the sole major operator, although talks are known to be ongoing to introduce additional carriers now the facility has been approved for service.  Ryanair is currently due to return to Modlin no earlier than September 2, 2013.

Modlin has been developed as Warsaw’s second airport and is particularly of interest to low-cost carriers as its cost structure enables it to offer better incentives to these type of airlines.  However, in the current economic environment its business model does not rule out attracting major regional and network carriers, although it is not targeting any Star Alliance members as these all have existing partnerships with fellow member LOT Polish Airlines, which has a hub at Chopin.