Wizz Air wants to expand UK operations with plan for creating a Gatwick base
Low-cost Wizz Air (Hungarian) is to open a new base at Gatwick. It wants the CAA to allow it to obtain more slots from its rival airlines that are not able to use them, due to the Covid pandemic. Wizz plans to launch four new routes from Gatwick by late October as it hopes to get people flying again. It is using the crisis in air travel as an opportunity to grab market share from less agile competitors with higher costs, that are looking to conserve cash until passenger demand recovers. Air travel within Europe remains very unclear, with the numbers of Covid cases changing rapidly in some countries, and fast changing regulations and restrictions. Wizz previously operated a limited schedule of flights using Gatwick, but the creation of a base will allow it to operate aircraft and crew from south London permanently for the first time as it shifts resources there. It hopes to get more Gatwick slots, as they become available. Airlines like easyJet and BA are likely to be unable to use many of their slots. Wizz announced in April its plans to cut close to 20% of its workforce and cut the wages of top management, pilots and crew.
Wizz Air expands UK operations with plan for Gatwick base
Budget carrier sees crisis in air travel as opportunity to grab market share
By Philip Georgiadis (Financial Times)
AUGUST 18 2020
Low-cost carrier Wizz Air is to open a new base at Gatwick airport and called on regulators to let “proper commercial forces prevail” to allow it to pick up more slots from its rivals as airlines lurch through the effects of the pandemic.
The Hungarian carrier will launch four new routes from Gatwick by late October as it defies an industry-wide downturn to expand its operations in the UK.
Wizz sees the crisis in air travel as an opportunity to grab market share from less nimble competitors with higher costs who are looking to conserve cash until passenger demand recovers.
But the strategy comes at a moment of jeopardy for the European aviation industry, which is struggling to chart a path through a new wave of uncertainty thrown up by rising case numbers across many parts of the region.
The airline has previously operated a limited schedule of flights to and from Gatwick, but the creation of a base will allow it to operate aircraft and crew from south London permanently for the first time as it shifts resources that otherwise would have been grounded by the drop-off in air travel.
While Wizz’s current expansion plans at Gatwick are modest — the airline expects to create about 200 jobs including in its supply chain — Owain Jones, UK managing director at Wizz Air, said the creation of a permanent base would be a bulwark to allow it to increase its capacity at the airport if slots became available.
The airline has urged European authorities to reinstate regulations forcing airlines to give up their take-off and landing slots at airports if they do not use them 80 per cent of the time.
The so-called “80/20” rules were suspended as the coronavirus crisis ripped through the industry, meaning that airlines have been able to hold on to coveted landing slots even as they cut flights. Carriers including British Airways and Norwegian have temporarily significantly cut their use of Gatwick. Neither airline commented on the issue.
“We should let proper commercial forces prevail. If people aren’t able to use slots that by sheer dint of fortune they had available, those slots should be released,” said Mr Jones.
The airline is now flying 100 per cent of its pre-Covid capacity in the UK, although Mr Jones did not rule out changing plans in response to the UK government’s quarantine requirements.
“Let’s see what happens. What we have to do is roll with the punches we get from government,” he said.
On Monday two of Wizz’s low-cost rivals blamed rising case numbers and travel restrictions as they outlined retrenchments. Ryanair said it would cut its autumn capacity by 20 per cent, while easyJet confirmed the closure of three UK bases.
Wizz has not been immune to the crisis. In April it announced plans to cut close to a fifth of its workforce and reduce the wages of top management, pilots and crew.
BA shifts short-haul operations from Gatwick to Heathrow
June 30th 2020
British Airways is to move all its short-haul and domestic operations at Gatwick to Heathrow until September. A “small number” of long-haul BA services will fly from Gatwick from mid-July as outbound UK air travel begins to resume, but the bulk of its ex-London programme will fly from Heathrow. BA said the move would cut costs “at a time when demand is yet to return” and travel restrictions remain in place. They say that throughout July and August, we’ll be consolidating our Gatwick and Heathrow short haul flying to operate from our Heathrow base.
Many BA flights for July moved from Gatwick to Heathrow, to rationalise operations there
British Airways is switching many short-haul flights from its second-biggest base, Gatwick, to Heathrow in July. BA has already warned that it may abandon Gatwick permanently, or drastically cut its operations there. For 30 years, Gatwick has been the base for BA’s leisure routes, including Mediterranean, Caribbean, Latin American and Indian Ocean destinations. BA Airways has a majority of the slots at Heathrow, but this summer it will use only a small fraction of them, for its much-reduced international network. The move may help the airline to cut costs, by increasing the efficiency of the operation at its main base, Heathrow. A daytime short haul holiday flight to the Mediterranean can be slotted in between early and late long haul trips, making better use of aircraft and crew. It will also remove some key BA routes from direct competition with easyJet, which is the dominant airline at Gatwick potentially enabling both airlines to increase fares. There may be more BA routes from Gatwick later in the summer, depending on how the Covid pandemic is being dealt with. BA has been described, by the Transport Select Committee, as a “national disgrace” for the way it has treated its staff, forcing them to leave, and then being re-employed on much worse contracts.
Norwegian founder helps seal rescue deal
Norwegian rescue will come as a boost to Gatwick, one of the airport’s biggest airlines
By Oliver Gill (Telegraph)
4 May 2020
Norwegian is poised to unlock a crucial £230m state bailout after investors backed a painful restructuring of the airline’s finances.
Shareholders approved plans on Monday for lenders and aircraft leasing firms to swap debts of more than 10bn crowns (£770m) for shares in the carrier.
The debt-for-equity swap was vital for Norwegian to access government support from Oslo after operations were brought to a near standstill by the coronavirus pandemic.
Norwegian, the third-biggest airline at Gatwick airport, was left particularly exposed by the global emergency, having racked up debts of more than £6bn to fuel a dramatic expansion programme in recent years.
The shareholder backing came after a series of impassioned pleas by the airline’s founder and former chief executive Bjorn Kjos.