Central and Eastern European LCC Wizz Air has secured its UK air operator’s certificate (AOC) and operating license, paving the way for Wizz Air UK to launch flights on May 3.

London Luton-headquartered Wizz Air UK has been created to protect Wizz Air from route-right uncertainty, as the UK prepare to leave the European Union (Brexit). Other major European LCCs, like easyJet and Ryanair, have followed a similar strategy.

For the time being, Wizz Air UK has been established as a wholly owned subsidiary of EU-owned Wizz Air Holdings. This may ultimately need to change, depending on post-Brexit airline ownership requirements.

“While Wizz Air UK is a key part of our Brexit contingency plan, it is also the first genuine ultra-LCC licensed in the UK and the natural next-step in the development of our UK business,” Wizz Air CEO József Váradi said, announcing the Wizz Air UK launch at a media dinner in London on May 2.

Wizz Air UK has already performed some non-revenue training flights, but the first commercial flight will operate between London Luton and Bucharest on May 3.

“We are going to very quickly ramp up our operations, within two months, to eight aircraft,” Váradi said. “This is going to become a very sizeable operation right from the beginning, probably even bigger than we intended.”

The UK operation will start with a fleet of five aircraft (three Airbus A321s and two A320s) and grow to eight aircraft (five A321s and three A320s) by June 4. Seven out of the eight aircraft will come directly from Airbus, while the final one will come from Wizz Air’s Hungarian operation.

When Brexit was first announced, Varadi slowed off Wizz Air’s UK growth. But, on May 2, he said underlying demand has remained intact and Wizz Air now plans to add 14% UK capacity in 2018. Varadi added that Wizz Air’s growth strategy is “totally a function of financial performance” and the main risk for Wizz Air UK is currency exposure.

Varadi said Wizz Air UK’s growth will continue to be focused on London, although he did not rule out further expansion in the UK regions too.

The new airline will create 300 new management, pilot and cabin crew jobs. Some support functions will be provided by Wizz Air’s central services team in Budapest.

Wizz Air operates a fleet of 96 A320 and A321 aircraft across a network of more than 600 routes from 28 bases. The rapidly growing LCC carried 29.6 million passengers during the financial year ended March 31.

Victoria Moores victoria.moores@informa.com