CEO of Wizz Air Jozsef Varadi has slammed the European Commission’s granting of a waiver on airport slots for the winter season. The low-cost airline wants to expand in airports such as London Gatwick but is being blocked from doing so because the slots are being protected. Varadi calls the waiver’ nonsense’, and says the whole process is damaging the UK’s economy.
Varadi slams slot waiver
Wizz Air has been a standout airline during the COVID pandemic. Despite the challenges presented by flying in the current climate, Wizz scaled up to run 80% of its 2019 capacity by August. By flexing schedules to the places where demand existed, Wizz was on track to a solid recovery.
However, closed borders and changing quarantine requirements have left a bitter taste. So much so, that Wizz has pulled capacity back out of the network. One place it had hoped to be able to grow is London Gatwick, a slot constrained airport. Wizz opened a base there with just one A321 in August, but cannot expand its capacity there, as, despite barely any airlines using them, there are no available slots.
Speaking at the World Aviation Festival last week, Wizz CEO Joszef Varadi spoke passionately about the situation, slamming the protection of airline slots, which is blocking him from expanding at the London airport. He said,
“I think what’s happening with the slot waiver is complete nonsense.
“What is happening is that the incumbent carriers are preserved. They don’t operate their slots. If you look at Gatwick, they are operating less than 20% of their capacity. As a result, thousands of people are fired by airlines, by the airport, by the service industry.
“And here comes Wizz who wants to put a lot of aircraft in London Gatwick, creating jobs, doing something good for the economy, and we are prohibited from doing it because of this slot waiver issue.”
Varadi took his comments a step further, saying that the slot waiver was not only disrupting the airline industry, but was also damaging the UK’s economy. He said,
“I think this is defeating the country this is defeating the economic interests of the government and the taxpayers. I think it’s frauding the voters and it’s frauding the taxpayers of the country. It’s complete nonsense.
“This is why we are screaming and shouting because we think it’s unfair, and it’s totally counterproductive and it goes against the basic interest of the country and its people.”
The slot waiver removes the requirement for airlines to operate 80% of their slot allocation. Under normal circumstances, airlines would lose the slots for the following season if they didn’t meet this requirement. The waiver had been applied for the summer season due to COVID, and has recently been extended to cover the winter season too.
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Wizz could put 20 aircraft at Gatwick tomorrow
The agility of Wizz as an airline has been proven time and again. Its ability to redirect capacity to the places where demand exists has seen it opening new bases and launching 200 routes, at a time when other airlines were scaling back. The airline has the ability to site 20 aircraft pretty much anywhere, including London Gatwick, but the waiver is preventing it from doing so.
While the capacity exists now, setting up a large amount of capacity at any airport is costly for an airline. As such, Wizz would only make the investment if it could be guaranteed of the slots during the following season. With so much uncertainty in the marketplace, Wizz is reluctant to invest in services now, with no guarantee that the slots will be retained longer term.
However, Varadi doesn’t rule out purchasing slots from another airline. He said,
“We would be open to look at ways of investing in capacity and creating jobs at a new airport like London Gatwick … I think we should be given access to the airport free of charge. But if that doesn’t work, I think we would look at other ways of entering the airport.”
Despite the willingness of the Wizz CEO to do whatever it takes to get a foothold in Gatwick, he noted that it was currently impossible. He said that the system is merely preserving the “inefficient, incapable airlines” and blocking Wizz from expanding.
Would you like to see Wizz with a greater presence at London Gatwick? Do you think the slots should be opened up? Let us know in the comments.