Wizz Air will restart flights to Moscow through its Abu Dhabi joint venture, warning that a return to Russia could damage the European low-cost carrier’s reputation.
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi will restart flights to and from the Russian capital on October 3. It suspended services after the invasion of Ukraine.
After the war began in late February, Russia has been effectively cut off from flights to and from the UK and the EU following a series of flight bans and sanctions.
But the ban does not apply to Middle East-based Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, a joint venture with Abu Dhabi’s state investment agency ADQ, which has a 51% stake.
Hungary-based Wizz Air, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, said the resumption of flights would bring Abu Dhabi Airways in line with its main Middle East rivals such as Emirates and Etihad Airways, which have not stopped. Fly to Russia.
But analysts warn the potential reputational damage could outweigh the extra business.
“While we can see the business logic of this approach, we do feel that the optics look all wrong,” analysts at Goodbody said on Tuesday.
The stockbroker added that the extra flights won’t “really change the dial” in terms of Wizz’s overall network or its flight schedule going into this winter.
The decision could also complicate the recovery of four Wizz Air planes that remain on the ground in Ukraine after they were stranded by airspace closures during the Russian invasion.
Wizz Air, one of the airlines hardest hit by the Ukrainian airspace ban in Europe since the start of the war, has about 7% of its summer 2022 scheduled capacity initially to and from Ukraine, according to Moody’s.
The airline has expanded into Europe and Asia as part of an aggressive expansion plan that has rapidly elevated it from Central Europe to a major player in the European aviation industry.
“Wizz’s fleet is growing rapidly and these aircraft need to be deployed . . . but I think there are other destinations other than Russia,” said Peel Hunt analyst Alex Paterson. .
“I don’t like the decision to fly to Russia and suspect some passengers may be avoiding flying with them as a result,” he said.
In a statement, Wizz Air said its Abu Dhabi airline was restarting flights “to meet the travel needs of passengers wishing to travel to and from Russia from the UAE capital”.
“Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is the national airline of the United Arab Emirates and operates in compliance with the national regulations and policies of the UAE,” the company said, adding that its British and Hungarian airlines still do not operate flights to Russia.