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Wizz Air continues its Eastern European expansion, this time in Bulgaria

30-Sep-2013

Wizz Air is pursuing further expansion in the Eastern European market with recently announced plans to grow its Sofia base in 2013 and 2014. The expansion will see the low-cost carrier base a fourth aircraft at the Bulgarian capital and launch two new routes, as well as increase frequencies on four existing routes.

The expansion will focus mainly on Western European destinations, including a new twice weekly flight to Malmo in Sweden. But there will also be a new thrice weekly link from Sofia to Dubai’s new airport.

Wizz's expansion places further pressure on flag carrier Bulgaria Air, which currently accounts for 26% of capacity in its home market.

The Wizz Air expansion at Sofia will further increase the LCC penetration rate in Bulgaria, continuing a trend which started with the country’s first LCC service in 2005. Bulgaria has since seen considerable LCC growth. LCCs contributed 0% of international capacity in 2004 but accounted for 30% of international seat capacity in the country in 2012, according to OAG data.

Bulgaria international LCC capacity share (% of total seats): 2001 - YTD2013

Bulgaria is located in southeastern Europe and shares borders with Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey. With a population of around 7.3 million and a GDP of about USD51.03 billion in 2012, Bulgaria has been a member of the EU since 2007, according to the World Bank.

Bulgaria has four main commercial airports - Burgas, Plovdiv, Sofia and Varna. The majority of traffic is handled by the capital’s Sofia Airport in the western area of the country. Bulgaria has some local carriers, primarily Bulgaria Air, which serves domestic and international destinations.

Wizzair's two new routes and increased capacity on five existing routes

Wizz Air’s current Bulgarian network is concentrated in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, where it operates 15 routes (including Wizz Air Ukraine’s Sofia-Kiev Zhuliany service). The airline also operates five routes from Burgas and two routes from Varna.

Burgas and Varna are Bulgaria’s second and third largest cities and are located in eastern Bulgaria on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. According to CAPA and Innovata data, 85% of Wizz Air’s overall Bulgarian capacity is through Sofia, with the remaining 15% equally shared between Burgas and Varna.

Hungary-based Wizz Air plans to grow its Bulgarian network in winter 2013/2014 and summer 2014 with the launch of two new routes and frequency increases on five routes. The airline expanded its Bulgarian network earlier in 2013 with the launch of twice weekly Sofia-Larnaca and Sofia-Bologna services in summer 2013.

To operate its expanding network from Sofia, the airline will add a fourth A320 to the base in May-2014. The new aircraft will support operations of a total of 16 Sofia routes and increase seat capacity by 30%.

Wizz Air’s planned Sofia expansion

Route

Frequency

Launch date

Aircraft

Current operators*

SOF-IEV

From twice to three times weekly

01-Oct-2013

A320

N/A

SOF-DWC

 New thrice weekly service.

29-Oct-2013

A320

N/A

SOF-MMX

 New twice weekly service.

16-May-2014

A320

N/A

SOF-CRL

From three to four times weekly

TBA

A320

Bulgaria Air to BRU

SOF-EIN

From four to five times weekly

TBA

A320

N/A

SOF-LTN

From daily to 11 times weekly

TBA

A320

easyJet to LGW and STN / British Airways and Bulgaria Air to LHR /

SOF-BGY

From daily to 10 times weekly

TBA

A320

Bulgaria Air to MXP

Bulgaria Air still the leading carrier in Bulgaria, Wizz Air coming up close behind

31 airlines currently operate to and from Bulgaria including 10 LCCs, jointly providing around 121,000 weekly seats in the international market. LCCs currently have around 29% capacity share of the Bulgarian international market though only Wizz Air and easyJet appear in the top 10 airlines operating to the country based on weekly seats offered.

Bulgaria’s national carrier, Bulgarian Air, is still the leading carrier in Bulgaria with approximately 26% of international capacity, followed by Wizz Air contributing 17% of international capacity.

Only Bulgaria Air and Belgium’s Jetairfly operate domestically in the country, with Bulgaria Air contributing around 97% of overall domestic capacity. Jetairfly operates Brussels-Burgas-Varna-Brussels service and is able to carry local traffic on the Burgas-Varna sector, according to Innovata.

Top 10 airlines operating to Bulgaria, ranked by weekly seats offered: 30-Sep-2013 to 06-Oct-2013

Rank

Airline

Total Seats

1

FB

Bulgaria Air

31,932

2

W6

Wizz Air*

20,160

3

S7

S7 Airlines*

13,394

4

OS

Austrian Airlines*

8,852

5

LH

Lufthansa*

8,388

6

U2

easyJet*

4,776

7

TK

Turkish Airlines*

4,142

8

AF

Air France*

2,448

9

BA

British Airways*

2,236

10

AZ

Alitalia*

2,220

Almost 95% of capacity in the Bulgarian market is attributed to international routes. Western Europe is Bulgaria’s main market with just under 70% of international capacity on routes to and from Western European destinations, followed by Eastern Europe with around 30% and the Middle East with 1%.

Wizz Air’s new route to Dubai World Central Al-Maktoum International Airport will increase the number of weekly seats to the Middle Eastern region but this will remain the smallest international market for Bulgaria. Wizz Air will be the first passenger airline to operate from Dubai World Central when it begins operations from the airport’s recently completed passenger terminal in Oct-2013 with several initial routes. (The airport has been handling some cargo flights since 2010.)

Wizz Air’s new route to Malmo and plans for frequency increases across five of the airline’s existing Western European routes will see Western Europe’s position as Bulgaria’s most important international market strengthen further.

Bulgaria international capacity (seats) by region: 30-Sep-2013 to 06-Sep-2013

Wizz Air and Bulgaria Air compete on eight routes currently

Wizz Air and Bulgaria Air currently compete on eight routes, including four directly and five indirectly due to secondary airports. All these routes are from Sofia as the airlines also do not currently overlap in Burgas or Varna. Therefore just over half of Wizz Air’s Sofia routes see it compete with the Bulgarian national carrier. Three of these, Brussels South Charleroi, London Luton and Milan Bergamo will see frequency increases from Wizz Air in 2014.

Wizz Air and Bulgaria Air route overlaps from Sofia

Route

Wizz Air

Bulgaria Air

SOF-BCN

Four times weekly

Twice weekly

SOF-CRL

Three times weekly

11 times weekly to BRU

SOF-HHN

Twice weekly

Eight times weekly to FRA

SOF-LCA

Weekly

Twice weekly

SOF-LTN

Daily

Six times weekly to LHR

SOF-MAD

Three times weekly

Daily

SOF-BGY

Daily

Four times weekly to MXP

SOF-BVA

Twice weekly

Daily to CDG

SOF-FCO

Three times weekly

Five times weekly

Wizz Air’s Bulgarian expansion is only one of several expansion plans for the LCC

Wizz Air’s Bulgaria plans follow the airline’s recently announced expansion in the Macedonian capital Skopje, where the airline will base a second aircraft at the airport and launch three new routes, as well as increase frequencies on six existing routes. Wizz Air has also recently announced further expansion in Vilnius (Lithuania) and Lviv (Ukraine).

See related report: Wizz Air expansion will accelerate Macedonia’s aviation market growth in 2014

Wizz Air’s continued expansion in the eastern Europe will continue to strengthen its position in the region ahead of any further expansion by Ryanair.

Wizz Air’s increasing eastern European presence will also be potentially concerning to the region’s remaining flag carriers such as Bulgaria’s Bulgaria Air, which is already competing against Wizz on eight western European routes.


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