Starting Small: Wizz Opens London Gatwick Base With 1 A321

Wizz Air will launch its new Gatwick base in October, initially with just one Airbus A321. The airport will become the airline’s third UK base, after Luton and recently announced Doncaster Sheffield. Wizz plans to operate leisure routes from Gatwick, going head to head with incumbent low-cost easyJet.

Wizz Air Aircraft
Wizz will open the base with just one A321neo. Photo: Wizz Air

Wizzing into Gatwick

Wizz Air has announced the opening of its third base in the UK, this time at a major London airport. From October, the international hub of Gatwick will be added to its UK bases, joining its home at London Luton and recently announced Doncaster Sheffield.

Owain Jones, the managing director of Wizz Air UK, commented in a statement,

“Today’s announcement of our new Gatwick base and four new routes reinforces Wizz Air UK’s position as a British airline that is growing, creating new jobs, bringing much-needed connectivity to the UK and so helping the economy get back in the air.”

Wizz has operated from Gatwick since 2016 and has flown around a million passengers in those four years. Although it will open the base with only one aircraft, it will add more seats, taking its annual total to more than 450,000. In true Wizz style, if the one aircraft launch goes well, we can expect to see more capacity rapidly deployed at the London airport.

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Head to head with easyJet

Breaking from the normal Wizz model of operating mainly to eastern Europe, the carrier plans to launch popular leisure routes from Gatwick, going head to head with major incumbent easyJet. The routes scheduled to be flown from Gatwick are:

  • Lanzarote: Three times a week from October 23rd
  • Athens: Four times a week from October 22nd
  • Malta: Three times a week from October 23rd
  • Naples: Three times a week from October 22nd
Wizz LGW routes
Wizz wants to focus on popular leisure routes from LGW. Photo: GCMap

While Wizz’s one aircraft operation is unlikely to rattle easyJet, with their one-third share of the passenger traffic at the airport, it sends a strong message that the Hungarian freight train is ready to barrel headlong into competition. Throughout the pandemic, Wizz has shaken off the idea of contraction and has instead proactively expanded into new markets and routes.

With these new routes and the other new UK base at Doncaster Sheffield, Wizz now flies 119 routes to 69 destinations from a total of 11 UK airports. Since April 2020, the airline has launched more than 200 new routes across its network.

Ready for more slots

Chief executive Jozsef Varadi had previously complained that the waiver on slot rules at the major London airports had been hindering the aviation sector’s recovery. Since March, the European Commission has suspended the rule that says airlines need to use their allocated slots 80% of the time in order to retain them, as COVID grounded fleets around the world.

Prior to COVID, Gatwick was one of the most congested airports in Europe. Photo: London Gatwick Airport

Gatwick is one airport that has lost out in the battle to recover from the COVID disruption. Both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways pulled back from operating at the airport, and while British Airways returned in July, capacity at the south London hub is significantly down.

Despite this, the waiver remained in place until October 24th, and could yet be extended into the winter season. Varadi said this was “a fraud against the taxpayer as well as the travelling public,”  calling upon authorities to free up slots for airlines wishing to expand, such as his own.

But, with an established base at Gatwick already, should airlines begin to free up slots, Wizz will be ready to jump on the opportunity.