Despite the ongoing COVID pandemic causing unprecedented turmoil in the aviation industry, many airlines have taken the market instability as an opportunity for expansion. George Michalopoulos, Chief Commercial Officer of Wizz Air, spoke to Simple Flying on how the current crisis represents the ideal moment for expansion.
Taking advantage of market opportunities
During a Simple Flying webinar last week, George Michalopoulos spoke with Joanna Bailey, Managing Editor of Simple Flying, on a variety of topics. Despite the industry downturn, Wizz Air has taken huge strides in its growth over the past year, adding dozens of new airport bases and hundreds of routes.
The low-cost carrier increased its airport operating bases from 25 to 43, launched its Middle Eastern subsidiary, Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, and continued to add to its fleet despite most other airlines scaling back. The airline is even projecting it will exceed pre-pandemic operations for Q3 2021 compared to 2019.
So how exactly has Wizz Air pulled this off during such a difficult period?
Michalopoulos revealed that Wizz Air was in a strong financial position going into the pandemic, with $1.6 billion in cash at its disposal. With a strong financial bedrock, airlines like Wizz Air can take advantage of favorable market opportunities, especially with other airlines scaling down their operations.
“There are more market opportunities. You are able to build market share quicker and become relevant in the market quicker. There are airlines, other airlines, which scale back, creating opportunities for expansion. So crises, in general, are, for those who can afford to, really good opportunities for expansion.”
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Stepping in the gaps
Even before the COVID crisis, Wizz Air became enormously successful in filling in market gaps as they arose. Whether this was airlines going defunct or giving up slots, Wizz Air was willing to fill the gaps and had the means to do so.
During times of crisis, these gaps are only going to get wider and more numerous. Michalopoulos cites Wizz’s success at London Luton Airport as an example, with the airline growing to become the “number one player in Luton.”
“When you look at Western Europe, we’d be more opportunistic, stepping in the gaps that are there.”
Airports are keen for new partners
With many airlines scaling back operations or pulling out of airports entirely, airport authorities are eager to attract new airlines. The COVID pandemic has forced many carriers to jump ship on certain routes and airports, opening opportunities for other airlines.
As Michalopoulos explained,
“At times like this, airports are keen to attract new airlines which are growing, and we’re one of the only ones out there growing.”
Despite the many opportunities for growth, Michalopoulos is keen to point out the many counterbalancing challenges posed by the pandemic. This is particularly true regarding Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, which was forced to delay its launch until January 2021 due to the pandemic.
“It’s come with challenges. Pandemics come with challenges and things have been a bit slower. But it’s also created many more opportunities. So I think there are two sides to the coin.”
Why do you think times of crisis often represent favorable opportunities for growth? Let us know your insights in the comments.