The airline’s UK managing director speaks to Ian Taylor about ambitious growth targets and ‘opportunity in the UK regions’
Low-cost carrier Wizz Air plans to grow rapidly as it returns its full UK fleet to flying this winter.
New UK managing director Marion Geoffroy described the imminent replacement of day-two PCR tests by rapid tests as “a game changer”.
Geoffroy, who took over in late August, said: “Our ambition as a group is to grow by 20% a year every year and to grow in the UK by 20%.”
The UK is already the airline’s biggest market in western Europe, although the bulk of its schedule remains focused on central and
eastern Europe. Geoffroy explained: “We have an ambition to have 500 aircraft by the end of the decade. In the UK there is room for that. There is opportunity in the UK regions.
“Without the crisis we would probably have more bases by now. We see demand increasing in the UK.”
Geoffroy is no newcomer to Wizz, having joined the carrier in 2015 as general counsel, and has been involved in aviation for “more than 20 years”.
She reported: “The summer went well. There was a late start in the UK, people did not travel much in July, but August and the first two weeks of September were very strong. We reached 85% of our capacity at the peak. Now there is a lot of capacity deployed for October. [But] bookings came in very late and that continues.
“We’ve seen encouraging signs for Christmas and, with the day-two PCR test removed for the fully vaccinated, there will be more.”
The carrier currently flies from Luton and Doncaster, plans to restart from Gatwick by mid-December and will launch from Cardiff next April after delaying opening a base there this summer.
All 14 UK-based aircraft will operate this winter and the carrier is in the midst of a campaign to recruit 40 pilots and 200 cabin crew in the UK.
Geoffroy noted “there is a pool of pilots available” following a spate of redundancies during the pandemic, and insists Wizz Air will have a full complement of flight crew by December.
But recruiting cabin crew is more of a challenge. She said: “There are one million vacancies in the UK. We’re competing against the entire job market [and] it’s difficult to convince people to apply to join an industry that has suffered so much.”
However, despite Covid restrictions, recruitment issues and Brexit, Wizz Air’s ambition to grow in the UK remains.
Geoffroy insisted: “Leisure travel is coming back [and] corporate travel will come back. It’s taking time because of the bureaucracy at the moment – it takes 30 minutes to fill out a form and you have to queue three times before you board. But business travellers want to meet. They want to travel.”
The one impediment is the availability of slots at Gatwick where expansion is constrained by the suspension of the normal ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ slot rules.
Geoffroy said: “We would like to grow at Gatwick, but we’re constrained. You can get access to certain slots, but there is no certainty you can retain them.
“We need slots, but we also need to be convinced we can build a sustainable operation around the slots we have.”