Wizz Air plans to fly planes two-thirds full once travel restarts

by Reuters
Tuesday, 14 April 2020 12:30 GMT

* Says plans to block out one third of seats

* No plans to permanently reconfigure aircraft

* No plans for aircraft deferrals

* Sticks to 15% capacity growth plan for when market returns

* Makes 1,000 redundant, cuts salaries (Recasts, adds CEO comments)

By Sarah Young

LONDON, April 14 (Reuters) - Low-cost airline Wizz Air plans to fly its planes two-thirds full once air travel restarts after the coronavirus pandemic, its CEO said on Tuesday, to ease passenger concerns over social distancing.

The coronavirus has brought air travel to a standstill and any passenger flights that are still operating are mainly for repatriation purposes. There is no clarity on when restrictions may be relaxed.

Wizz Air CEO Jozsef Varadi said Wizz was looking at plans to fly its aircraft two-thirds full in the first few months once flying restarts, with middle seats blocked to ensure distance between passengers.

"We would basically be blocking a third of the airplanes, so 180 seater would be come a 120 seater, and the 230 seater would become more like 160 seater," Varadi said in a telephone interview.

He said that Wizz Air was not considering permanently reconfiguring its aircraft.

Like all European airlines, most of Wizz Air's aircraft are currently grounded and the airline said on Tuesday it would cut its workforce by almost a fifth and reduce salaries, to get through the crisis, but had no plans to defer aircraft orders.

Wizz Air, whose geographic focus is central and eastern Europe, said it could not give guidance for its current financial year but stuck to plans to increase capacity by 15% annually once markets return to normal.

In contrast, Lufthansa said last week it was cutting capacity because the German carrier believed it would be years before air travel returned to pre-crisis levels. easyJet has said it would defer delivery of 24 Airbus jets.

Wizz Air said it was expecting deliveries of 12 narrowbody aircraft from Airbus this year, and expected to take around 30 to 40 aircraft in the three years 2021-2023. It has A320neos and A321neos on order.

Wizz Air, which is listed in London but was founded in Hungary, said it had 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion) of cash at the end of March 2020, putting it in a strong financial position. Citi analysts have forecast that Ryanair and Wizz Air will be the only major European carriers to avoid refinancing.

For the 12 months to March 31 2020, the airline said it expected to report underlying net profit in line with its guidance range of between 350 million euros and 355 million.

It would however take an exceptional charge of between 70 million euros and 80 million related to hedging losses.

($1 = 0.9153 euros) (Reporting by Sarah Young Editing by James Davey/David Holmes/Jane Merriman)

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