Can Wizz Air soar amid the pandemic?

THE MOOD among airline bosses can seem uniformly bleak. For good reason: air travel may not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024. Not a week goes by without an airline sacking thousands of workers. Against this gloom, Jozsef Varadi, who runs Wizz Air, cuts an audacious figure. While other airlines cancel and defer orders for new planes and put expansion plans on ice, he wants to increase his fleet from 127 planes to 160 by 2022 and double passenger numbers to 80m by 2025. He believes the Hungarian low-cost carrier, founded 17 years ago and now Europe’s third-biggest behind Ryanair and EasyJet, will not only survive covid-19 but thrive.

Can the plan fly? “The odds are it will,” says Keith McMullan of Aviation Strategy, a consultancy. Wizz Air managed to report a 19% rise in revenues in the 12 months to March, to €2.8bn ($3.1bn). Net profits doubled year on year, to €281m. Despite unavoidable losses this year, it has sustained less covid-19 damage than rivals.

Luck played a role. Wizz Air’s customers are on average 32 years old—younger than those of rivals and less fearful of the virus. It caters to many central and eastern Europeans working in the west, who are keen to fly home frequently. Wizz Air’s smaller fleet, less than a third the size of Ryanair’s and half of EasyJet’s, meant it could keep a bigger share of...



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