NewsWizz Air CEO discusses future flight resumptions to Russia and Ukraine

Wizz Air CEO discusses future flight resumptions to Russia and Ukraine

Wizz Air was already in the home stretch to launch flights to Saint Petersburg.
Wizz Air was already in the home stretch to launch flights to Saint Petersburg.
Images source: © Adobe Stock | dechevm
4:29 PM EST, March 9, 2024
Varadi shared his views during a press engagement with Polish journalists, initiated by money.pl, where he reflected on Russia's potential reintegration into the global aviation landscape after the Ukraine conflict ends. "I believe Russia, as a destination and market, will make a comeback, although this won't occur immediately and will require some time," he stated.
Previously, flights to St. Petersburg were highly successful for Wizz Air's network, which also included services to Moscow and Kazan. However, the airline's expansion efforts in Russia were first hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequently by the Russian military's aggression in Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022.
"We had negotiated a base agreement with St. Petersburg, crafted in a way that allowed us to fly to Russia without establishing a separate airline there," Varadi elaborated in a discussion with Polish journalists.
He further explained that this arrangement was part of the Russian authorities' strategy to boost tourist and business travel between St. Petersburg and Europe, circumventing the regulatory framework applicable to the rest of the country. The introduction of free e-visas for citizens of 53 countries, including Poland, for up to eight days in St. Petersburg from 2019, also facilitated this.
Following the war's outbreak, Wizz Air's UAE subsidiary planned to resume its Abu Dhabi to Moscow flights, which were suspended on February 27, 2022. Despite announcing the route's reinstatement for October that year, it faced extensive criticism and was ultimately removed from Wizz Air's booking system in August, citing supply chain issues. This was amid a backdrop where Western manufacturers had ceased supplying aircraft parts to the Russian market.
When questioned about the future of flights to Russia and whether EU carriers will traverse its airspace again for Far East journeys, Varadi emphasized that restoring air connectivity between Ukraine and Europe is a distinct matter. "Ukraine will return to the skies much sooner, within weeks or months. But Russia? That process will be lengthier; it must first face punishment and repercussions from Europe," Varadi added.
Varadi also likened the situation to post-World War II Germany, highlighting that despite its initial isolation, Germany rejoined the international community and eventually became part of what is now the European Union. He believes keeping Russia permanently isolated is not beneficial for Europe, especially concerning aviation.
The contentious issue of reopening Russia's airspace for aviation has been a topic of discussion within the civil aviation sector since the early days of the Ukraine conflict. Willie Walsh, IATA's Director General, expressed in December 2022 the necessity of preparing for the reopening of Russian airspace, especially in anticipation of the Chinese market's reopening potentially boosting Europe-Asia connections.
Recent IATA data illustrates that international air traffic between China and the rest of the world has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, with international flights to China recovering to just about 60%. The analysis also points to a range of factors, including economic challenges within China, affecting the recovery of international traffic.
The closure of Russian airspace has particularly impacted Finnair, Finland's national airline, known for its strategic flights to the Far East via the shortest routes over Siberia. Now having to circumvent Russian airspace, Finnair faces 10-40% longer flight times to Asia, significantly affecting operating costs.
Despite the challenges, Finnair has adapted by diversifying its route network beyond Asia to include destinations in India, the Middle East, and North America. When asked about the possibility of resuming flights over Russia post-conflict, Finnair's response was pragmatic, indicating plans are in place assuming a prolonged closure of Russian airspace.
Marcin Walków, journalist and publisher for money.pl
Air traffic in China. Domestic traffic is marked in blue, international in red.
Air traffic in China. Domestic traffic is marked in blue, international in red.© IATA
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