June 4, 2018 / 11:04 AM / 5 months ago

UPDATE 1-Wizz Air to weather high fuel prices, expects market shake-up -CEO

(Recasts, adds comments, context, travellers’ comments)

By Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST, June 4 (Reuters) - Hungary-based low-cost airline Wizz Air expects to emerge from a higher fuel price environment stronger relative to rivals and has its sights on joining the industry’s European elite, Chief Executive Officer Jozsef Varadi told Reuters.

Global airlines will probably make about 12 percent less this year than previously anticipated, the International Air Travel Association said on Monday, citing higher fuel prices, interest rates and geopolitical tensions.

That will prompt a shake-up in the industry, Varadi said, with weaker airlines cutting capacity or going out of business, leaving prized market share available for stronger rivals such as Wizz, anchored in faster-growing Eastern Europe.

“Better airlines will continue to prosper,” Varadi said on the tarmac of Budapest Airport, where the company took delivery of its latest Airbus A321 aeroplane, growing its fleet to 100, a milestone no Hungarian airline had ever reached.

Varadi said an ultra-low-cost model allowed Wizz Air to push higher input costs through its system fairly seamlessly. Airiness that cannot match that will be left struggling, he said.

He said the company’s aim was to be among the top five airlines of Europe, which he said it was on track to achieve within the next decade. It currently ranks number 10 in terms of passengers carried.

Wizz Air joined the London Stock Exchange in 2015 and its valuation has more than trebled since.

Varadi said the company’s fleet would reach 281 planes by 2026, with more than three-quarters of the capacity made up of efficient Airbus A321 NEO models.

Passengers at Budapest’s busy airport were broadly positive about Wizz Air, which launched in 2004 and grew successful during the final years of the former flag carrier Malev, which went bankrupt in 2012.

“Wizz Air offer a well priced service,” said traveller Peter Kis, en route to Bari, Italy, aboard a Wizz Air flight. “I fly with them when they serve my destination,” he said, adding he regretted the loss of Malev.

Business traveler Maria Meszaros has no such regrets. She flies Wizz Air at least 20-30 times a year as she crisscrosses Europe as an industrial production control systems expert.

“I didn’t even know it was a Hungarian airline until my colleagues told me,” she said as she waited to check in to her Athens-bound flight. “I flew Malev, and Wizz is cheaper and closer to its customers than the old school airlines ever were.” (Reporting by Marton Dunai Editing by Jason Neely and Keith Weir)

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