July 29, 2020 / 6:27 AM / 14 days ago

Wizz Air sees bumpy recovery for airlines on on/off restrictions

LONDON (Reuters) - Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air said off and on-again COVID-19 restrictions meant the travel industry’s recovery would be bumpy, and it could not provide financial guidance for the current year.

A Wizz Air Airbus A320 from Sofia, Bulgaria taxis to a gate after landing at Luton Airport after Wizz Air resumed flights today on some routes, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Luton, Britain, May 1, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Boyers/Files

Britain reintroduced a 14-day quarantine for arrivals from Spain this week, and worries about a second wave of coronavirus infections in Europe pose a new challenge for airlines seeking a recovery after the pandemic grounded flights for months.

“I think this is going to become more of a rollercoaster,” Wizz’s chief executive József Váradi said when asked about the shape of the recovery on Wednesday.

Wizz, whose main focus is eastern Europe but which is expanding its presence in western Europe, said the uncertainty meant it could not provide profit guidance, but it hoped to be operating at about 70%-80% capacity over the rest of 2020.

The airline said it was ready to be flexible in changing routes where restrictions are brought in and that its strong cash balance of 1.6 billion euros ($1.88 billion) meant that it would not need to raise new funds to survive the crisis.

Wizz was one of the first airlines to resume flights in May after coronavirus lockdowns in many European countries were ended or eased.

By the end of June it was flying about 70% of its capacity, putting its recovery ahead of larger competitor airlines. Across Europe, air traffic is running at about 40% of last year’s level.

For its first quarter, the three months to 30 June, Wizz posted underlying EBITDA of 8.9 million euros, down 95% compared to last year, and swung to a net underlying loss of 57 million.

Váradi said people wanted to fly but uncertainty around government-imposed restrictions, “and the unpredictable nature of that,” was hindering the recovery.

Shares in Wizz traded up 3.9% at 3,525 pence at 0713 GMT.

($1 = 0.8513 euros)

Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Alistair Smout and John Stonestreet

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