(Adds CEO comments)
LONDON/BERLIN Feb 16 Budget airline Wizz Air
will open a new British base at London Luton, seeking
to drive growth in routes between Britain and eastern Europe and
improve efficiency, it said on Thursday.
The east Europe-focussed airline said the base will open on
June 18 with one new Airbus A320 aircraft. Luton will be its
first UK airport with base operations, and the number of routes
it serves from the airport will rise to 42.
Although London-listed Wizz has been flying from Britain
since 2004, until now it had not set up a British base. CEO
Jozsef Varadi said the decision to do so reflected the size of
the Luton operation, where it served 5 million passengers last
year, making it the second largest airline there behind easyJet.
"For the scale and size of the business, the operating model
is not efficient or sustainable. If we want to grow, we need to
base some capacity there," Varadi told Reuters, adding that
space at Luton was getting tight and Wizz wanted to book an
overnight stand before rivals did.
Basing planes at Luton will give the airline more
flexibility and allow it to open more routes, he added.
The three new routes announced on Thursday will connect
London Luton with Tel Aviv, Kosovo and Georgia.
Varadi said the decision had nothing to do with Britain's
decision to leave the European Union.
He said Wizz was happy with its Hungarian operating
certificate for now and was not currently looking at whether to
apply for a British certificate. Such decisions would have to
await clarity on future traffic rights between Britain and the
Wizz Air also announced two new routes from Frankfurt
airport this week, meaning more low-cost competition for German
carrier Lufthansa at its home base after Ryanair
announced a deal to start flights this summer.
Varadi said Wizz expected to expand flights from Frankfurt
in the future, given its attractive customer profile. But he
said Wizz was not at present looking at Munich, where budget
carrier Transavia, part of Air France-KLM, has said it
would shut its base from October. He said Wizz is happy flying
from nearby Memmingen.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout and Victoria Bryan; Editing by
Paul Sandle/Ruth Pitchford)