New Wizz Air launch in Abu Dhabi could be delayed due over tourists ban

Wizz Air mulls postponement if a ban on foreign visitors to Abu Dhabi isn’t relaxed soon

Wizz, Europe’s third-largest discount carrier, announced plans to expand its low-cost model to the Middle East in December.

Wizz Air Holdings said on Wednesday it will delay the October 1 launch of its new airline in Abu Dhabi if a ban on foreign visitors isn’t relaxed soon.

The deadline for a go-decision is fast approaching, and it’s likely that flights will be pushed back by a few weeks because of the health-related restrictions, Wizz Chief Executive Officer Jozsef Varadi said in an interview.

“We have one aircraft already there and another arriving in the next few days, but really we need Abu Dhabi to open up so that people can actually fly,” he said by phone from Budapest, where Wizz is based.

Flights to Abu Dhabi are currently limited by the government to returning local residents, and then only if they’ve recently tested negative for Covid-19, with people also required to self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival. That’s stifling interest from the tourists who are expected to account for the bulk of demand at the new carrier, Varadi said.

Wizz, Europe’s third-largest discount carrier, announced plans to expand its low-cost model to the Middle East in December. It teamed with Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund ADQ to create the venture.

Varadi confirmed launch destinations of Athens, Alexandria in Egypt, Larnaca on the island of Cyprus, Odessa in Ukraine, the Armenian capital Yerevan, and Kutaisi, Georgia. He said the plan remains to expand to six Airbus A321neo aircraft within six months once the venture is running.

Wizz also continues to explore options for building up a presence at London’s Gatwick airport and has had some discussions about buying slots from airlines that are no longer using them. At the same time, a European Union decision to temporarily protect carriers from use-or-lose rules on airport slots has slowed progress.

“I don’t think anyone is taking a position to sell slots until they absolutely have to,” Varadi said. “And with the slot waiver we could be in the same situation six months from now.”

While Virgin Atlantic Airways has said it’s looking for someone to “babysit” its Gatwick slots after pulling out of the airport, Varadi reiterated that Wizz has no interest in a leasing agreement and would need to purchase takeoff and landing positions outright to justify the required investment.

Norwegian Air Shuttle has also said that long-haul services from Gatwick might not resume until April, while short-haul flights are currently limited to a handful of services from Scandinavia. At the same time, the carrier has bonds tied to the value of the Gatwick slots, so that any disposal would be difficult.

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