Wizz Air UK (W9, London Luton) has confirmed it will open its new base at Cardiff on June 17, 2021, with the first international flight taking off to Faro in Portugal, following the Welsh government’s lifting of a ban on international travel.

The Hungarian low-cost carrier will station one aircraft, a 230-seat A321-200 at Cardiff, to start with, spokesperson Andras Rado confirmed. The intention was to grow the fleet at the base pending demand.

The nine destinations to be served from Cardiff this summer include Faro (Portugal), Larnaca (Cyprus), Kerkyra (Greece), Heraklion (Crete), Alicante and Palma de Mallorca (Spain), plus Lanzarote and Tenerife Sur in the Canary Islands, Spain. This will be followed by flights to Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt) in October.

Wizz Air UK Managing Director Owain Jones said in a statement: “With the re-start of international travel from Wales, we’re excited to be planning the start of Wizz Air UK’s new base at Cardiff Airport in June, just in time for the holiday season. We’ve been busy recruiting new colleagues, with the first training course in Cardiff already completed, and Wizz Air UK’s Cardiff team is looking forward to welcoming customers on-board Wales’ new hometown airline.” Jones told BBC Radio Wales the company had not taken any financial aid from the Welsh government and operated in Cardiff on a purely commercial basis.

Wizz Air UK last December announced it was setting up a Cardiff base but was unable to start flights at Easter as it had hoped due to COVID-19 travel restrictions in the UK.

Foreign travel from the UK is now permitted. Still, the rules applicable on return differ in terms of countries that have been classified into red, amber, and green destinations, depending on their COVID-19 status. Only green destinations allow a quarantine-free return to the UK. Portugal, including the Azores and Madeira, are on the current green list, while Spain and Greece are on the amber list.

"We expect that over the year, as vaccinations programmes are rolled out, more countries will be on the green list," Cardiff Airport Chief Executive Officer, Spencer Birns, told ch-aviation. "The situation is very fluid at the moment. Our expectations are that once countries are deemed to be safe for travel, demand will go through the roof."

Jones told BBC Radio Wales Wizz Air UK had been working "very closely" with authorities to avoid repeating the situation last year, which saw some last-minute changes to travel rules. "We know that people need reassurance if they're going on holiday on a Saturday, that they wouldn't then find out when they landed in Spain that all of a sudden from midnight [it] was coming off the travel corridor," he said. "The traffic light system is certainly intended to provide more certainty."

"We're going to be 40% bigger in the UK than we were this time last summer. Across Europe, we've added 300 new routes. We've taken 17 brand new aircraft and opened 16 new bases across Europe," Jones said.

Cardiff Airport will become the airline's fourth base in the UK, following London Luton, London Gatwick, and Doncaster/Sheffield.

Wizz Air UK setting up a base at Cardiff Airport represented the first low-cost carrier to operate a base in Wales in the past decade, said Birns. While Ryanair (FR, Dublin Int'l) and Vueling Airlines (VY, Barcelona El Prat) already served Cardiff, the addition of Wizz Air UK allowed the airport to further build on the demand for budget prices and leisure destinations, a market segment expected to see the quickest recovery post-COVID-19, he said. The airport would also work with Wizz Air to grow demand to city markets and bring tourism to Wales.

While Wizz Air was using its UK AOC to establish the base, he envisaged that the airline's European AOC's would also start operating to Cardiff in time. "For us, it is strategically important to link Wales to the markets in Europe again," he added.

Cardiff Airport had a turbulent year following the loss of flybe. (BE, Exeter) which collapsed in March 2020 just as the pandemic hit. Before the crisis, defunct Thomas Cook Airlines UK (MT, Manchester Int'l) had also been operating from Cardiff on leisure routes. Although the airport has not been closed for essential, charter and cargo flights, commercial passenger traffic was grounded between March 23, 2020, and the end of June 2020, and again from October 22 until May 2021, Birns confirmed to ch-aviation.

In more positive news for the airport, Stobart Air (RE, Dublin Int'l), the franchise operator of Aer Lingus (EI, Dublin Int'l) regional routes, earlier this month, announced the addition of two new routes to its network, connecting Cardiff to Belfast City from Juny 28 and to Dublin Int'l from August 30, 2021.