Wizz Air crew members
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is hoping to add new aircraft at the first available opportunity as it bulks up its network. Image Credit: WAM

Abu Dhabi: Low-cost airline Wizz Air Abu Dhabi plans to hire up to 400 pilots and cabin crew this year as the UAE airline readies to take on more routes and a bigger share of demand for budget flying. The carrier currently has a 400-strong workforce.

“We just organised one recruitment event for cabin crew and have another coming up,” said Johan Eidhagen, CEO and Managing Director of Wizz Air Abu Dhabi.

The airline is also seeking staff to fill up ground operations roles at its Abu Dhabi hub. According to listings on recruitment data provider Glassdoor.com, pilots working in Abu Dhabi are paid an average of Dh 23,000-Dh36,000 per month (plus incentives) and cabin crew take-home averages Dh8,000 to Dh10,000 per month.

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Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, known for making hyper-aggressive launch rates, ‘doubled in size during 2022’, “We have flown around 600,000 passengers in the first quarter of 2023; the load factors are increasing across our flights.”

The airline’s passenger numbers rose six-fold to 1.2 million passengers in 2022, with the fleet size doubling from four to nine A321-neo aircraft. It now flies to 39 destinations in 25 countries from Abu Dhabi and plans to commence operations to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and relaunch popular routes such as to Larnaca, Santorini, and Sohag.

Its ninth aircraft, which the airline acquired in March, provides an additional 30,000 ultra-low-fare seats per month. “We have been focused quite a lot on opening up new destinations within a five-hour flying distance from Abu Dhabi, and that’s starting to attract more new travellers to the franchise,” said Eidhagen.

The airline’s Ramadan and Eid Al Fitr promotions (20 per cent straight discounts to select destinations) helped raise load factors. “This helps us keep lower fares, driving up more than double-digit sales,” the CEO added.

On whether Wizz Air Abu Dhabi stands to gain from the ongoing staff shortage and industrial strike issues affecting the European market, Eidhagen said the airline has not considered reducing capacity to affected routes.

Johan Eidhagen, CEOO and Managing Director of Wizz Air Abu Dhabi
“We have seen an increase in European travellers and bookings, with load factors now at 85 per cent, up from below 70 per cent in 2022,” said Eidhagen.

Saudi expansion plans

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi has plans to expand into other GCC countries, especially Saudi Arabia, which is a huge focus point for regional airlines. “We launched three routes into Saudi Arabia, which has been very interesting and would like to grow this market further and constantly looking at new ways to do it,” said Eidhagen.

The airline faces stiff competition from legacy carriers (Saudia, Emirates, Etihad) and budget carriers (flydubai, flynas, flyadeal, Air Arabia). Plus, there will be the new Saudi airline, Riyadh Air.

“We don’t see ourselves as a competitor to the legacy carriers focused more on connected traffic,” the CEO said. “We are focused on VFR (visiting friends and relatives) traffic in the UAE- Saudi sector, which is a huge market. We cater to the business travellers, but it is not a core market for us,” he added.

Aircraft deliveries

Eidhagen acknowledged that the aircraft makers’ supply chain issues could impact deliveries, but the airline is working closely with Airbus to ensure priority and flexibility in their delivery schedule.

The parent entity, Wizz Air. is among Airbus’ biggest customers, with 490 historical orders. “And that’s not just Wizz Air Abu Dhabi but Wizz Air Group, which means we have a solid aircraft order book,” he added.

Change in pricing

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi also remains steadfast to staying an ultra-low-cost carrier. Eidhagen said this strategy has seen immense success in Europe, and one of the reasons Wizz Air came to Abu Dhabi was after seeing a gap in the market.

“No one else is offering an ultra-low-cost model in this market, and there is a demand for such a product,” he said.

There is no intention to add premium cabins on its flights. “One of the key benefits consumers want is a safe, reliable, affordable travel option,” said Eidhagen. “This is what the ultra-low-cost carrier model does.

“Continuing to be aggressive and provide low fares to the market is one of the ways that we stimulate it. We can continue to do it repeatedly to have a sustainable product.”

India, Pakistan plans
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is keen to increase its operations to the Indian sub-continent and applying for permits to launch services to India and Pakistan. The airline launched operations to the Maldives in October last year.

“The great news is that we have been ‘designated to be able to fly into Pakistan’, which is one of the steps to start operating into the country,” said Johan Eidhagen.

While the airline is yet to announce the start of operations, “We believe there is a strong demand for the product in these countries. We are working on the regulatory approvals to start,”