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Wizz Air is a low-cost carrier based mainly in Budapest but has hubs throughout Eastern Europe, including Gdańsk, Katowice and Belgrade. The airline has seen rapid growth since its 2004 inception, and is Central Europe's largest LCC. Wizz Air operates on over 150 routes across Europe, using predominantly secondary airports, and is continuously looking at opportunities to expand its network of destinations and provide low-cost air transport to and from Central and Eastern Europe.
Location of Wizz Air main hub (Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport)
Wizz Air Holdings Plc share price
LCCs will continue to evolve into hybrids of the original core model. CAPA and OAG consider Wizz Air fits the LCC profile and it is included in our reporting on this basis. Please note: when reporting for an airline is changed from or to LCC the historical data is not affected and it can lead to a distortion in the current reported data. Contact us if you have any queries.
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Eastern/Central Europe offers significant opportunities to LCCs. The region's faster-growing, lower-wage economies are relatively under-penetrated by the low cost model, and by air travel in general, compared with Western Europe. Furthermore, outside Russia, Turkey and Greece, the region contains very few sizeable legacy airlines and even fewer in strong financial health.
Wizz Air and Ryanair, already established as the two leading airlines in Eastern/Central Europe (ex Russia, Turkey and Greece), look well placed to build further here. According to OAG data for the week of 13-Jul-2015, number one ranked Wizz Air is growing seat capacity by 25% year on year, while number two Ryanair's seat numbers in Eastern/Central Europe are up 22% from their level a year ago.
Wizz Air's recent aircraft order demonstrates its resolve to stay in pole position. However, breaking the region into its component markets, Ryanair often comes out ahead of Wizz Air in countries where they both compete. Whichever one of Europe's two lowest unit cost airlines can win the fight for cost leadership will likely be the long term winner in Eastern/Central Europe.
The Italian market continues in a state of flux. It looks like 2015 will join 2014 as a growth year, following contraction in 2012 and 2013. Alitalia has stabilised its total seat capacity after years of decline, but continues to lose market share to fast-growing rivals. Europe's three biggest LCCs - Ryanair, easyJet and Vueling - are pursuing what seems like relentless expansion across Italy, but Wizz Air is also building a presence.
Furthermore, the leading airlines in Italy continue to jostle for places in difference parts of the market. This is illustrated by easyJet's recent decision to close its Rome Fiumicino base from Apr-2016 and to redeploy aircraft through the expansion of bases at Milan Malpensa and Naples and at a new base at Venice Marco Polo.
Ryanair overtook Alitalia as the biggest airline in Italy by seats in 2013 and offers far more destinations. As it continues to improve customer service quality and to increase the proportion of primary airports in its pan-European network, Ryanair's position as market leader in Italy and the lowest cost producer in Europe will make it hard to beat.
LOT Polish Airlines' plan to more than double passenger numbers to 10 million in 2020 will bring significant growth to its base airport, Warsaw Chopin. LOT's aspirations to be the hub carrier for the "New Europe" will elevate Chopin airport to competing with Budapest, Prague and Vienna to be a hub for Central Europe.
LOT's growth is important to Warsaw Chopin, but is not the sole story. Chopin grew traffic while LOT restructured, while passenger numbers declined and then stayed flat. Second largest carrier Wizz Air is growing its presence and could introduce connections. Ryanair meanwhile is at Warsaw's LCC airport, Modlin, contributing 60% growth in the first five months of 2015.
Although Warsaw Chopin finished an expansion programme in May-2015, further works are needed to support LOT's growth, especially with widebodies. Emirates will up-gauge its existing daily service before presumably later considering a second daily flight. The bigger challenge to LOT and Warsaw is Lufthansa and its German hubs, which have grown as LOT shrank, especially in secondary Polish cities.
At the Paris Airshow, Wizz Air signed a MoU with Airbus for the purchase of 110 Airbus A321neo aircraft, with deliveries to start in 2019, and uncommitted purchase rights over an additional 90 A321neo aircraft. The order is subject to a final purchase agreement and approval by the shareholders of Wizz Air, which listed on the London Stock Exchange earlier this year.
Such approval is typically forthcoming and the new aircraft should provide significant unit cost improvements. Nevertheless, Wizz Air's order is very large compared with its size today and follows large orders for narrow body aircraft in recent years for other leading European LCCs, including Ryanair, easyJet, Norwegian and Vueling (the latter as part of an IAG group order).
Norwegian has admitted that it may not be able to use all of its planned aircraft and Wizz Air's order now provides an opportunity to review the data on the number, and types, of narrow bodies on order in Europe. Narrowbody deliveries to Europe look set to rise, at a time of rising global deliveries. Success is not guaranteed for all. Meanwhile the expanding role of LCCs in both leisure and business markets continues to undermine the positions of legacy airlines on short haul routes.
Reporting its first financial results since its Feb-2015 IPO, Wizz Air announced that its underlying net profit jumped by two thirds in FY2015. In another year of double digit capacity and revenue growth, it managed to grow its unit revenue while simultaneously lowering its unit cost.
Ranked by operating profit margin for the 12M period to Mar-2015, Wizz Air is equal second with easyJet and behind only Ryanair in the list of Europe's most profitable airlines. The IPO has also left it with a robust balance sheet, a useful attribute in the volatile airline industry.
Wizz Air's guidance for FY2015 implies much slower profit growth of less than 20%. Lower fuel prices and a competitive market backdrop look likely to put unit revenue under pressure. Moreover, further unit cost reduction is harder when costs are already very low. Nevertheless, Wizz Air's low cost base and impressive ancillary revenue performance, together with strong market share in Central and Eastern Europe, position it to remain one of Europe's more successful airlines.
The last of Europe's stock market-listed airlines recently reported financial results for 2014, providing the opportunity to compare levels of profitability. Ranking them by operating margin, there is a wide range of performance from healthy double digit to negative figures.
LCCs typically performed better than legacy airlines. Most of the higher margin airlines improved in 2014, while most of those at the lower end of the scale suffered a fall in margins. Convergence of business models does not show itself in convergence of financial performance.
Beyond the listed airlines, Europe has a large number of mainly small and unprofitable airlines, which drag down the aggregate margin of the continent's airline sector. Europe's traffic growth and load factors are relatively healthy by world standards, but its margins are held back by its fragmented market structure.