Wizz Air will further increase its presence at London Gatwick (LGW) after agreeing to buy takeoff and landing slots from Norwegian Air Shuttle.
The Budapest-based carrier will acquire 15 daily slot pairs at the UK’s second largest airport, with new routes to be announced “in due course.”
The move will enable the airline’s UK subsidiary to base an additional four Airbus A321neo aircraft at Gatwick from spring 2022 onwards, bringing the total number stationed there to five. The slots will also create “significant” inbound flight opportunities for Wizz Air Hungary.
“Acquiring airport slots at Gatwick Airport will enable us to enhance our presence and competitive position in the London market,” Wizz Air Group CEO József Váradi said. “The 2022 season has the potential to be a tremendous opportunity for UK aviation to get back on its feet.”
Wizz has a sizable presence at London Luton (LTN), but the ULCC has long sought to expand further in the lucrative London market, with Gatwick a key target.
The airline opened a base at Gatwick in October 2020, launching seasonal leisure routes to the likes of Athens (ATH), Lanzarote (ACE) and Malta (MLA). However, Váradi has repeatedly complained growth has been stifled by the lack of available slots.
In November 2021, a coalition comprising Wizz, Gatwick, Belfast International (BFS) and Edinburgh (EDI) reiterated calls for a return of the “80-20 use-it-or-lose-it” airport slot rules to be reinstated in the UK for the summer 2022 season.
The rules, which require airlines to operate at least 80% of allocated slots or face losing them, were relaxed at the onset of the pandemic. A decision on the UK usage requirements for next summer is expected in January.
Earlier this month, the European Commission set a minimum slot usage threshold of 64% for the summer 2022 season—an increase on the current 50%.
Wizz’s planned expansion from Gatwick will further increase the amount of low-cost competition at the airport. Although easyJet holds a dominant position with a 56% share of all departure seats during December 2021, British Airways (BA) intends to launch a new lower-cost short-haul subsidiary at Gatwick in 2022.
BA has opened reservations for 35 routes across Europe and North Africa, mainly centered on popular summer vacation destinations in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Spain and Turkey. Six services will start in late March.
The flights will initially be operated by mainline BA until the new Gatwick-based offshoot—expected to be named BA EuroFlyer—receives its air operator’s certificate. Routes’ analysis indicates that BA and easyJet will compete directly on 33 of the 35 routes being launched by BA.
Gatwick hopes to welcome nearly 750,000 passengers across the Christmas and New Year period, up by 570% on 2020 due to last year’s COVID-19 restrictions. The most popular short-haul route is expected to be Dublin (DUB), while Cancun (CUN) tops the list of top long-haul destinations.