Wizz Air (W6, Budapest) is planning to make a move on the slots being vacated by other airlines at London Gatwick, Chief Executive Officer Jozsef Varadi told Bloomberg. An opportunity to build another London gateway alongside its existing operation at London Luton, where it is the airport's second-largest operator, has become possible as airlines like Virgin Atlantic (VS, London Heathrow), British Airways (BA, London Heathrow) and Norwegian UK are looking to retrench their respective operations at Gatwick, the UK's second-busiest airport.

“We’ve been looking at Gatwick for a long time and we absolutely have an ambition to build a base there,” Varadi said. The ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) had plans to move into Gatwick last year, as it was a contender to purchase slots from now-defunct Thomas Cook Airlines UK (MT, Manchester Int'l), which were ultimately purchased by rival easyJet (U2, London Luton). A further tranche of Gatwick capacity owned by Monarch Airlines (ZB, London Luton) was bought by IAG International Airlines Group in 2017.

The Wizz Air CEO added that any expansion at the airport is contingent on being able to secure slot ownership, as the ULCC wants to avoid taking over capacity temporarily only to hand it back later. “We wouldn’t want to lease slots. You don’t make an investment in building up a business and the other guy then changes his mind.” Varadi said that he was unsure whether BA and Virgin will actually surrender their slots. Virgin CEO Shai Weiss said last week it intends to lease out the slots until the market recovers and a return to Gatwick becomes viable.

Virgin said will transfer all flights from Gatwick to London Heathrow and retire all seven of its B747-400s as part of post-COVID restructuring plans. BA told Its Gatwick staff earlier this month in an internal letter that its base there may not reopen.

According to the ch-aviation capacities module, for the week commencing July 20, easyJet is the largest operator at Gatwick commanding 43.2% of weekly capacity. BA is the second-largest carrier (19% of weekly seats) at the airport, followed by Norwegian (9.8%) and TUI Airways (BY, London Luton) (6.7%). Virgin is way back in eighth (2.3%) and Wizz Air is currently in ninth (1.16%). The latter operator offers services to Sofia, Budapest, Gdansk, Kraków, Bucharest Otopeni, Cluj-Napoca from Gatwick - all of which it also serves from Luton.

Wizz Air recently announced a further expansion of its Luton operation, launching flights to Faro from June 16 and to Zakinthos, Heraklion, Kerkyra and Rhodes from the beginning of July. As a result of this expansion, Wizz Air now flies to 66 destinations from Luton, serving destinations in 27 countries. The CEO indicated that should the necessary capacity be acquired, the potential Gatwick hub could become as large as its Luton base. The ULCC offers close to 90,000 weekly seats at Luton, just behind easyJet which operates a weekly capacity of over 92,000 seats.