Dubai: Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are next on Wizz Air Abu Dhabi’s radar after the low-cost carrier launched an inaugural flight to Bahrain last week. Saudi Arabia, which recently allowed the resumption of direct passenger flights to and from UAE, is another on Wizz’s plans.
“That opens up opportunities for us as well - we have no immediate plans to fly there,” said Kees van Schaick, Managing Director at Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, which is the latest airline to launch operations from the emirate. “Saudi Arabia is likely going to happen sooner or later. Bahrain is first of many more to come.”
Last year, Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, the venture between Europe’s Wizz Air and UAE’s ADQ, launched services to Tel Aviv after the signing of the Abraham Accord between UAE and Israel. It halted those flights this year and is waiting for the right time to resume flights.
“We will start when we believe it is commercially of interest,” said Schaick. “The tourist high season will start anytime in the UAE – Expo 2020 is starting (and) we have a lot of other interesting tourist attractions in Abu Dhabi.”
Once the Tel Aviv route is back, Wizz Air will work towards increasing the frequency on the route to meet demand, said the executive. It seems easier said than done though. Israel has re-imposed travel curbs as the country – a global vaccination leader – keeps battling the pandemic.
Schaick, who declined to disclose Wizz Air Abu Dhabi’s load factor numbers, said the airline’s newly-launched routes initially see fewer passengers. “These routes have to attract new clientele and people have to get to know that we are operating – any new route sees very low numbers,” said Schaick.
Wizz Air seems to be recovering quite quickly as Europe lowers its borders. The airline flew over 3.5 million passengers in August at a load factor of nearly 84 per cent.
Sharjah-based Air Arabia has announced two new ventures – Fly Arna in Armenia and Fly Jinnah in Pakistan – as it hastens its expansion in new geographies. When asked whether Wizz Air would consider launching in a new market such as South Asia, Schaick said: “We are looking around to see what Wizz Air Abu Dhabi can do and what Wizz Air as a group can do”
Schaick said the airline industry will have come a long way by 2022 before making a full recovery by 2023 or 2024. “Short-haul traffic within the GCC will recover first – passengers will be hesitant to fly long distances and hence long-haul travel will be the last to recover.”
He said airline recovery will get a further boost if all the Gulf countries came to some kind of an understanding with their COVID-19 protocol.
“It would be wonderful to see an alignment of travel restrictions because, then, everybody traveling within the GCC would know how to travel, what to take as documentation and how often to test,” he added. “That would be a great step forward for airlines serving in the region.”