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Thu, Apr 22, 2004

WIZZ-Bang Startup

New European Airline Begins Flying Next Month


Ten countries in central Europe are set to join the EU next and that could be just the news WIZZ is looking for. Europe's newest low-cost carrier is set to debut with the idea of serving what until now has been a traditionally underserved market.

"We've secured over six million euros for the company, and we're just ahead of raising a further several tens of millions of euros," WIZZ Air CEO Jozsef Varadi, former head of Hungarian national airline Malev, told Reuters in an interview.

Varadi isn't alone. There's a bumper crop of budget carriers across central Europe and apparently a bumper crop of passengers. Until now, most have been served by national flag carriers. But when those ten countries join the EU on May 1, countries will no longer be able to protect flag carriers from international competition.

In central and eastern Europe most of the traffic (for low cost airlines) will come from passengers who have never travelled by air before," Varadi said. "We will target people who can afford to travel but have not afforded to fly so far."

WIZZ Air launches a little more than two weeks after its home country, Hungary, joins the EU. From its hub in Krakow, Poland, the airline will initially serve Budapest, London, Rome, Milan and Venice.

Varadi wants to move fast -- no sticking toes in the water to test the temperature. "Today the competition is so sharp that it does not tolerate a strategy of step-by-step expansion," he said.

To go along with rapid deployment and a media blitz, Varadi said WIZZ Air plans to offer fares averaging about 50 Euros. That may be more expensive than Britain's Ryanair, but it's cheaper than Easyjet.

Varadi hopes to fly more than two million passengers during his company's first year of operation.

FMI: www.wizzair.com

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