Interview: Wizz Air Abu Dhabi readies for take-off

Routes speaks to Wizz Air Abu Dhabi’s MD Kees van Schaick to find out more about the start-up’s future network plans.

What are the next steps before Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is able to launch?

After eight months of very diligent work by the team, we achieved our AOC on Oct. 12, which is obviously a major milestone in being able to operate the airline. We are now in a position where we are good to go from a regulatory perspective and all of our staff and crew are eager to get started. However, there is a 14-day quarantine period for passengers arriving in Abu Dhabi at the moment, meaning that we need to think very carefully about when we launch. Our original launch date was delayed because of this and we continue to monitor the situation very closely.

What geographical markets are you exploring? 

We are open to considering any market where we can operate favorably. Certain types of traffic will return quicker than others and, if you consider Gulf Cooperation Council countries, we expect domestic and short-haul routes to recover faster than long-haul. We are therefore looking into that situation to see whether it should influence our network planning. This means we may potentially have a higher mix of GCC counties in the mid-term. But we believe our initial network is balanced between GCC countries, Northern Africa and our traditional markets in Europe.

How are COVID-19 travel restrictions affecting your network plans?

Restrictions are changing from country to country overnight. That’s what we have to contend with and so it requires us to be very reactive and make sure we’re working with all the relevant authorities to understand the latest restrictions. Our sister company Wizz Air has built up a track record of doing this and we will be exactly the same. For example, Israel is a market that has just opened up from the UAE and is obviously very interesting to us, as well as the other national airlines I’m sure. However, we will act very quickly if the opportunity arises.

Can you tell us about your current fleet? Do you expect any of the A321XLRs on order to be deployed with Wizz Air Abu Dhabi?

We have two Airbus A321neo aircraft and expect to have six within our first six months of operation. It hasn’t been decided where in the group the wonderful XLR will operate, but it would present a very interesting proposition and will allow us to connect origins and destinations that we can’t reach at the moment. The XLR will really stretch the extremities of our network. 

You recently launched an RFP through Route Exchange. Why have you decided to do that now and what is the key information you’re looking to hear from airports?

We are in a position where we are ready to begin flying and already have two aircraft stationed here. But we have much bigger plans going forward. Despite the pandemic, we therefore need to plan our long-term strategy. As well as serving existing points in Wizz Air’s network, we want to stimulate new markets within our ultra-low-cost offer, thereby bringing more and more traffic to Abu Dhabi. We want to hear from airports about why we should partner with them and to help us make the right decisions.

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What are the benefits of partnering with Wizz Air Abu Dhabi?

We have a track record of bringing traffic to airports. By partnering with us, airports are getting access to an airline that is continuing to grow and expand its fleet. We are actively preparing for the post-COVID-19 recovery and we have no plans to scale back our operations. We are in growth mode, contrary to other airlines in the market.

Why is Abu Dhabi an attractive market for low-cost start-ups and are you worried about the growing competition? 

Abu Dhabi is really interested in ensuring the continued success of its airport and has made a huge investment in its new terminal building, which will be open next year. There is also a very receptive approach from the government in terms of new airlines. In terms of the competition, I am not too worried about that. We have access to new aircraft and are ready to take advantage of the growth potential that exists in Abu Dhabi.

What is the ultimate plan for the airline?

We feel there is the potential for 50 aircraft within the first five years. It could even be more than that. If you look at the growth of Wizz Air since its inception, we believe there is the potential to emulate that here given the underpenetrated ULCC market. Of course, it depends on governments and airports making it happen with us. But we bring a very efficient model and we are uniquely positioned in this region with our high-density A321 aircraft.

Photo credit: Wizz Air 

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is currently accepting route proposals from airports.

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