Despite the numerous challenges that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has posed to the airline industry, low-cost carrier Wizz Air has remained in expansion mode over the last 12 months. For example, the last year has seen it open a base in Abu Dhabi, UAE. According to its CEO, it is planning to fly the upcoming Airbus A321XLR from there within two years, giving the airline access to a significant proportion of the global population.
Wizz Air’s A321XLR order
The Airbus A321XLR is a highly-anticipated aircraft that is set to fundamentally alter the very nature of longer-haul travel. While twin-engine aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 are already popular on intercontinental services, the A321XLR represents a significant step towards narrowbodies becoming more commonplace on such corridors.
Wizz Air is a loyal customer of the A320 and A320neo families. Two years ago, it showed a strong commitment to the latter of these by ordering 20 examples of the A321XLR. Its shareholders approved this in October that year. The 20 aircraft represent 40% of a wider 50-plane order placed by Indigo Partners.
Abu Dhabi expansion
It was initially speculated at the time of the order that Wizz Air would deploy its upcoming A321XLR aircraft between London and Dubai. However, since then, it has instead opened a base elsewhere in the UAE. Indeed, a subsidiary airline known as Wizz Air Abu Dhabi commenced operations from the Middle East in January 2021.
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi has enjoyed a strong first three months of operations. Having initially served the Caucasus region, and Mediterranean countries such as Cyprus and Greece, it is now looking further east. Indeed, it announced in March that it would be opening two new routes to Kazakhstan. It has also benefited from the new diplomatic ties between Israel and the UAE by opening a route from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv.
A catchment area of five billion inhabitants
Wizz Air is currently able to operate flights of up to six hours with its existing A321neo aircraft. However, the extra range of the A321XLR, and Abu Dhabi’s location, will unlock masses of potential for the airline in terms of new markets and customers. Speaking today at the virtual World Aviation Festival, its CEO, József Váradi, stated that:
“In two years, we will have the A321XLR, which is adding an additional one and a half hours to the range. So, if you put that aircraft into Abu Dhabi, and draw a radius [of] that range, you’re going to be capturing 5 billion people. So I think it’s an amazing market opportunity.”
Although Váradi also stated that Wizz does not plan to use the aircraft to serve transatlantic routes from the UK like JetBlue, deploying it in Abu Dhabi will give it access to a host of new markets as of 2023. It is unclear how many of the 20 aircraft will be based there, but, in any case, it should herald an exciting period of growth for Wizz, particularly in Asia.
What do you make of Wizz Air’s plans to fly the Airbus A321XLR? Where do you think the carrier might fly the next-generation narrowbody? Let us know your thoughts and predictions in the comments.