Looking East: What’s Behind Wizz Abu Dhabi’s Asian Expansion?

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi has announced its first-ever flights to central Asia, which will feature in its 10-strong route network this May. With massive gaps remaining in the schedules of its first four aircraft, many more routes will be announced soon.

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi
Wizz Air presently has 15 routes bookable from Abu Dhabi in mid-May, but many new routes will be coming soon, given huge gaps in its first four aircraft schedules. Photo: Wizz Air.

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi has announced its first-ever flights from the United Arab Emirates capital to central Asia, with two routes to Kazakhstan starting in May:

  1. Almaty: twice-weekly from May 14th
  2. Nur-Sultan: twice-weekly from May 13th

The ultra-low-cost-carrier (ULCC) knows Kazakhstan. It operated from Budapest to Nur-Sultan between 2017 and 2020 on a twice-weekly basis using A320s.

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is the latest separate unit with its own air operator’s certificate in the Wizz Air Group. It launched operations to Athens on January 15th. The carrier uses only 239-seat A321neos and eventually expects to use 50 of them to carry 20 million passengers annually.

Khalil Lamrabet, Senior Vice President of Aviation Development at Abu Dhabi Airports, has previously said that it has foresees 40 routes for the ULCC in its first four years.

Wizz Air to Kazakstan
10 of Wizz Air’s routes from Abu Dhabi will be operated by its UAE unit. Image: GCMap

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Now 15 Wizz Air routes from Abu Dhabi

Almaty and Nur-Sultan’s addition means that Wizz Air currently has 15 routes scheduled from Abu Dhabi this May. Of these, 10 will be operated by its UAE unit, with the rest by its original Hungarian AOC.

In mid-May, the ULCC presently has 35 weekly departures bookable from the UAE capital. Tel Aviv will be its only seven-weekly service, with this route coming from the historic peace agreement forged between the UAE and Israel. It is due to begin on April 14th, with its start, like that of most others, pushed back because of coronavirus.

At the time of writing, its route network in mid-May will comprise:

  1. Tel Aviv: seven weekly departures
  2. Alexandria: three
  3. Yerevan: two
  4. Sofia: two
  5. Larnaca: two
  6. Kutaisi: two
  7. Athens: two
  8. Thessaloniki: two
  9. Budapest: two
  10. Katowice: two
  11. Bucharest: two
  12. Odesa: two
  13. Almaty: two
  14. Nur-Sultan: two
  15. Cluj-Napoca: one
Wizz Air routes from Abu Dhabi
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi’s network strategy will remain true to what has made the Group successful.               Image: GCMap.

Massive gaps remain in aircraft schedules

Wizz Air’s average number of departures from Abu Dhabi will be twice-weekly. The airline’s network strategy will very sensibly remain the same as its core operation: low-frequency, often unserved markets, and point-to-point only. It’ll remain focused on maintaining and minimizing unit cost.

Analysis of Wizz Air Abu Dhabi’s schedules for its first four aircraft shows that huge gaps remain. They currently have less than half of what they will have when they are fully scheduled, meaning multiple new routes will be announced, probably fairly shortly. For example, in May, only two round-trips are scheduled out of what will be 16 or more on Wednesdays.

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi launched operations on January 15th to Athens. Photo: Wizz Air.

Abu Dhabi’s only flights to Central Asia

Both Almaty and Nur-Sultan, the Kazakhstan capital (previously known as Astana), have been served from Abu Dhabi before by codeshare partners Etihad Airways and the Kazak flag carrier, Air Astana.

Etihad Airways served Almaty from 2008 until 2016, OAG data shows, typically on a three-weekly basis using A320s and A319s. Air Astana operated it until 2014, often once-daily. In its final 22 weeks, the 1,821-mile sector was operated by Embraer 190s.

Meanwhile, the 2,041-mile sector to Nur-Sultan was operated by Etihad between 2009 and  2020, while Air Astana ended it in 2015. Etihad normally served it twice-weekly using A320s, while Air Astana typically had twice the frequency with the same aircraft type.

The end of Nur-Sultan in 2020 marked the end of Central Asia on Abu Dhabi’s route map, unhelped by Etihad’s significant route cuts as the airline tries to achieve a stronger foundation. Now Central Asia will once again be connected with the UAE capital.

Etihad A320
Etihad Airways served Nur-Sultan until 2020 and Almaty until 2016. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia.

Dubai and Sharjah to Central Asia

Unlike Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah both have strong Central Asia networks. This year, Dubai will have six routes – Almaty, Ashgabat, Bishkek, Dushanbe, Nur-Sultan, and Tashkent – with four airlines. flydubai alone will have up to 38 departures a week in total to all six.

A huge number of possible routes await Wizz Air Abu Dhabi. Where do you think they should fly? Comment below!