Airbus Supply Chain Kinks Prompt Wizz Air to Slow Growth

 - November 2, 2022, 2:45 PM
A Wizz Air Airbus A320 takes off from Birmingham International Airport in England. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY-SA) by Alec BHX/KKC)

Wizz Air remains committed to its ambition to become a 500-aircraft airline by the end of the decade, but supply chain disruptions at Airbus have forced the Hungarian ultra-low-cost-carrier (ULCC) to revise its fleet expansion plan downward over the next few years. The ULCC operates a single Airbus fleet type—consisting of 53 A320ceo jets, 41 A321ceos, six A320neos, and 68 A321neos at the end of September—and it recently exercised its purchase rights on 75 A321neos for delivery in calendar years 2028–29. Wizz Air’s delivery backlog stands at 394 aircraft, including a firm order for 13 A320neos, 319 A321neos, and 47 A321XLRs, along with another order for 15 A321neos.

On average, Wizz Air takes delivery of between 30 and 40 aircraft a year. Delays at Airbus will affect about 20 percent of deliveries. “So we are still getting the bulk of those deliveries,” Wizz Air CEO József Váradi told analysts during the company’s first-half earnings call on Wednesday. “[The delays will] most likely roll over into the next five years depending on how quickly the industry will be able to fix the supply chain issues,” he cautioned.

The ULCC now expects to expand its fleet to 173 Airbus single-aisle jets by the end of the current financial year ending March 31, 2023, 208 aircraft by the end of FY 2024, 234 by the end of FY 2025, 267 units by the end of FY 2026, and 326 aircraft during FY 2027. When presenting the company’s first-quarter results in July, Wizz Air expected its fleet to grow to 182 jets during FY 2023 and reach 341 aircraft in FY2027. “This is based on the revision of the delivery schedule by Airbus," Váradi said. “This is outside our control. This is not our initiative…We will have to see how this will develop in the future.” 

Wizz Air does see opportunities to keep capacity in line with its initial fleet plan by extending existing leases or leasing aircraft in the market, but Váradi doesn’t favor such a solution. “The problem is this would drive up costs significantly,” he said. “Extending leases means extending old technology. We are very keen on renewing the fleet because of the economic and environmental efficiencies coming through.”

Váradi expressed confidence that demand for travel would remain strong in the second half despite a challenging macroeconomic backdrop and heightened uncertainty for consumers. “So far we are seeing no indication of a drop in demand, so we remain confident,” he said, emphasizing that the airline’s geographically diversified network and expansion in the Near and Middle East provide a natural hedge against a possible fall in demand in one region. 

Wizz Air plans to increase capacity this winter by about 35 percent compared with the same period in 2019. According to Eurocontrol data, only three of Europe’s ten largest airlines operate more flights today than before the pandemic: low-cost carriers Ryanair, Wizz Air, and Vueling. Ryanair remained by far the region’s largest operator, with an average of 2,825 daily flights during the week of October 20 to 26, up 19 percent on the same week in 2019. Wizz Air operated on average 751 daily flights that week, up 29 percent from the same period in 2019.