OPN 200915 Wizz Air Abu Dhabi
OPENING UP UAE'S AIRLINE SPACE: Choice and at ticket rates that is budget-friendly – that’s what anyone wanting to catch a flight out of the UAE will have in the coming days, as the country’s sixth airline taxies onto the runway from October 16. Already, the entry of low-cost Air Arabia Abu Dhabi is starting to influence rate patterns in some routes. And Wizz Air Abu Dhabi taking off on October 16 will provide its own dynamic on what rates could be going forward. These two budget carriers should lead to an ultra-competitive air travel market in the UAE and beyond, much like what has been seen in Europe for some years now through Ryanair and EasyJet. That’s exactly what the UAE – and the Gulf – will need at this stage of evolution for its airline industry. And an industry that needs some boosters after the COVID-19 struck it down. [COMMENT BY: Manoj Nair, Business Editor] Image Credit: WAM

Dubai: UAE’s brand new budget airline Wizz Air Abu Dhabi does not see the Omicron variant affecting travel demand on its routes, according to Kees Van Schaick, Managing Director.

Several countries had re-introduced travel restrictions and suspended certain routes after the new variant was detected in South Africa a few weeks ago. Late last month, UAE suspended inbound flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19 variants.

Kees van Schaick, Managing Director at Wizz Air Abu Dhabi
“Those airlines which operate to certain African countries, they will suffer because of the restrictions - hopefully, the new variant will be controlled,” says Van Schaick.

“We do not see that impacting the traffic of Wizz Air Abu Dhabi – to the contrary, we are seeing improving load factors,” said Van Schaick, on the sidelines of an event in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. The low-cost carrier does not operate to the countries that have been affected by travel restrictions. “In that sense, we are not impacted at this moment and hopefully that will not change,” said Van Schaick.

Global uncertainty

While UAE’s airlines may successfully weather the latest crisis, the hard-hit global aviation industry is watching every move carefully. “Airlines are very much picking up the pace in restoring capacity – Wizz Air is doing that in Europe,” said Van Schaick. “We, as a new entrant to the aviation industry, are able to grow because we see no restrictions which impact us notably while operating from Abu Dhabi.

Last week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged governments to not shut borders in response to the new variant. “Governments are responding to the risks of the new coronavirus variant in emergency mode causing fear among the traveling public,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director-General, in a statement last week. “As quickly as possible we must use the experience of the last two years to move to a coordinated data-driven approach that finds safe alternatives to border closures and quarantine - travel restrictions are not a long-term solution to control Covid variants.”

Georgia route

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi will launch twice-weekly flights to Kutaisi, Georgia starting from December 15 and it will require the airline to deploy an additional aircraft, said Van Schaick. “This will open up a second destination in Georgia as other UAE airlines are serving the capital city of Tbilisi.”

Depending on the level of demand, “we could possibly introduce more flights to this destination,” said Van Schaick. This is “uncharted territory from a UAE point of view, but very much known to our sister airline in Europe, which has been serving Kutaisi for a very long time.”

Georgia is among the top travel destinations for UAE’s residents given its proximity and relatively relaxed travel norms.