The boss of Wizz Air has reaffirmed plans to have a fleet of 500 aircraft before the end of the decade as it moves towards normality following the Covid crisis.
The eastern and central European budget carrier reported a halving of losses in the summer three months to €121 million from €243 million in the same period last year.
The quarter marked a return towards 2019 traffic levels as it continued to “transition to operational normality” with people returning to flying despite lingering Covid travel restrictions and the need to cut fares over the winter, according to chief executive Jozsef Varadi.
Almost ten million passengers booked with the airline in the three months to September with load factors around 80% for the quarter and reaching 84% in August as capacity peaked at 98% of 2019 levels.
“We closed the quarter with €1.7 billion of total cash, highlighting our ability to manage liquidity well and continue to maintain our investment grade rating,” Varadi said.
“The company is executing against its ambition to deliver a 500 aircraft airline before the end of the decade.
“We have continued to take deliveries during the Covid-19 pandemic, and additionally we will add 26 aircraft to our summer 2022 fleet versus summer 2021 via a combination of aircraft deliveries and advanced deliveries from our order book and extending short-term leases at highly competitive terms.”
The fleet is expected to reach 170 aircraft by next spring, a 52% rise in capacity over summer 2019.
“This will allow us to maximally take advantage of market opportunities and next year’s peak season,” Varadi added, noting that the airline has increased its bases from 25 before Covid to 44 now.
Staff numbers are projected to rise to 6,700 by the end of summer 2022, up from around 4,000 prior to the pandemic.
Varadi said: “Our investments in network, fleet and people are laying the foundation for the exceptional opportunity we believe [financial year 2022-23] will represent.
“We will have further widened our competitive edge and will be operating a superior fleet from a cost and sustainability point of view in a more diverse and scalable network.
“However, we are still in an investment mode in the current quarter as we bring on additional fleet and crew ahead of a fully utilised operation from spring 2022 onwards.
“We are stimulating demand with pricing given the continued impact of Covid-19. Additionally, foreign exchange and commodity markets continue to be volatile and are impacting our financial performance.”
Wizz Air expects an operating loss of around €200 million in the three months to the end of December and this may carry over into early 2022 “depending on the operating conditions” in the quarter.
The carrier’s current financial year at ending in March 2022 will round off “a true transition” out of Covid-19 with a network, team and fleet “fully prepared” for next year’s peak season, Varadi said.
Meanwhile, Silicon Valley-based global technology and business leader Anna Gatti has been named as an independent non-executive director of Wizz Air, having worked for Google, YouTube and Skype.
The airline’s chairman William Franke said: “Anna brings to the board of directors a significant business, technology and customer knowledge.
“Her past experiences of working with some of the most important digital companies will benefit Wizz Air as it scales up its business in the coming years and leverages the power of technology and data to get there.”