Young But Mighty: The Short But Exciting History Of Wizz Air

Wizz Air is an ultra-low-cost carrier that has, following the folding of Málev Airlines in 2012, become something like Hungary’s de facto national airline. Operating a young fleet of all-Airbus aircraft and utilizing a mix of primary, secondary, and regional airports, the carrier has been adding bases and routes at breakneck speed – and is by no means done yet.

Wizz Air
Wizz Air’s first flight took off less than two decades ago. The carrier has seen incredible growth since then – and it is not showing any signs of slowing down. Photo: Getty Images

For as prevalent as its livery has become across the skies of Europe and beyond, one would be forgiven for feeling as if Wizz Air had always been there. However, the ambitious budget carrier was born in Budapest less than two decades ago. Wizz’s first flight took off from Katowice International Airport in Poland on May 19th, 2004, one year after being founded by the former CEO of Malev Hungarian Airlines, József Váradi. After a decade of solid growth, Wizz became Central and Eastern Europe’s largest low-cost airline. Today, it operates a fleet of over 145 aircraft out of close to 40 bases – and has over 200 new jets on the way.

An expansive couple of years

If you had not heard of Wizz Air prior to the crisis of 2020, you probably became well-acquainted with the airline over the past two years. When other airlines pulled back and entered hibernation, Wizz expanded, rolling out base after base and stationing aircraft all the way from Catania to Oslo, St Petersburg, and London Gatwick. However, it has since dropped some bases, including Riga and newcomers Dortmund and Trondheim.

Young low-cost carrier Wizz Air has one of the largest orders for the Airbus A320 family aircraft. Photo: Airbus

Furthermore, 2020 saw a new subsidiary in the form of Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, which has been busy at work adding routes and aircraft to its roster. The airline says it may continue to expand, replicating the model elsewhere. Thus far, there has been little limit to Wizz’s industriousness, so it would come as no surprise to see more similar initiatives in the future.

The brightly liveried airline’s network consists of over 140 destinations. Recent route additions include Kiyv to Stockholm Skavsta and four year-round services to Amman in Jordan, the latter beginning on December 15th. Let’s take a closer look at the trajectory it took to get there.

Giving Málev a run for its money

Wizz Air was, as previously mentioned, founded by József János Váradi. The Hungarian businessman served as the CEO of the country’s struggling flag carrier Malév Airlines from 1999 until 2003 when he left the company. Later that same year, Wizz came into being through collaboration with five other individuals with airline industry experience.  The newcomer would soon cut the market share of the national airline by a third. What happened next with Málev is the subject of another story. 

Malev Airlines 737
Wizz Air’s founder previously served as the CEO of Hungary’s national airline Málev. Photo: Pieter van Marion via Wikimedia Commons

Loyal to the A320 family

The Airbus A320 family has been Wizz’s aircraft model of choice since the beginning. Wizz took delivery of its first aircraft, an Airbus A320-200, in May 2004. The plane was at the time three years old, leased from AerCap, and had entered service with ACES Colombia. It was withdrawn from use in 2011 before it was removed from storage again for a brief period in 2019, operating a few months for low-cost colleague Citilink in Indonesia.

Before the end of the year, Wizz had received another seven A320-200 aircraft leased from various companies. All of the earliest planes have now exited the fleet, as Wizz strives to maintain a low average age of its aircraft. And it does succeed quite well. The current average of Wizz’s jets across all of the airline’s iterations is currently 5.2 years.

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi A321neo
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi has been operating for less than a year. Photo: Wizz Air

Longer range expansion to be expected

Today, Wizz Air Hungary operates a fleet of 128 aircraft. The UK subsidiary, launched in 2018, has 14, including four A321neos. Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, which operated its inaugural flight in January this year, has thus far taken four, all of them A321neos. And many more new engine option jets there will be. Wizz Air has orders for 34 A320neos, no less than 179 A321neos, as well as 20 A321neoXLRs.

The extra-long-range version of Airbus’ popular narrowbody is expected to enter service sometime in 2023. However, the airline is thus far keeping quiet about where the first ones will be based. Its current longest routes are from Warsaw to Tenerife and Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan to Budapest, clocking in at about 2,000 nautical miles. With a rough range of approximately 4,000 NM for the A321XLR, the arrival of the aircraft will open up a whole new set of routes and destinations for Wizz.

Young But Mighty: The Short But Exciting History Of Wizz Air
The Airbus A321XLR will be a gamechanger for Wizz Air when it arrives in 2023. Photo: Airbus

A few bumps along the way

Meanwhile, not all of Wizz’s endeavors have panned out. We have already mentioned the closing of several bases over the past year. Meanwhile, the airline’s Bulgarian subsidiary, founded in 2005, merged with its parent carrier in 2011 for operational reasons. Wizz Air Ukraine, which was based out of Kiyv and flew its first flight in 2008, ceased operations in April 2015.

Wizz is currently busy with considerable expansions in both Ukraine and Bosnia. Meanwhile, all opening plenty of bases over the past couple of years has made Italy Wizz Air’s top country, as it gives Ryanair a run for its money. The two rivals even announced new Venice bases on the exact same day. With plans for massive pilot recruitment drives in the works and a whole armada of new planes on the way, we are sure to hear and see plenty more from Wizz in a not too far distant future.

What are your memories of flying with Wizz Air? Does the airline operate at an airport near you? Leave a comment in the section below and share your story about Hungary’s de facto flag carrier with the community and us.