CAPA WORLD SUMMIT: Jozsef Varadi named Airline Executive of the Year

The man behind the rise of LCC Wizz Air, Jozsef Varadi, was awarded the prestigious Airline Executive of the Year 2018 trophy by CAPA – Centre for Aviation at its Awards for Excellence gala dinner, held alongside its CAPA World Aviation Outlook Summit in Berlin, Germany this week.

The respected aviation and travel industry intelligence provider said Jozsef Varadi was selected “for growing Wizz Air into the largest airline in Central/Eastern Europe.”

Wizz Air previously won the CAPA Low Cost Airline of the Year in 2016. It has since grown, profitably, by nearly another 50%, recording passenger growth of 24% in 2017 and 20% through the first 11 months of 2018. The airline has managed this growth, “while also developing a consistent track record as Europe’s second most profitable airline company by operating margin over the past four years,” CAPA added.

“Jozsef Varadi has shown remarkable courage and vision in building a profitable low cost airline in a market historically associated with state owned, bureaucratically run, loss-making flag carriers,” says CAPA – Centre for Aviation executive chairman, Peter Harbison.

We grabbed Mr Varadi as he came of stage in Berlin to get his immediate thoughts on winning the prestigious award.

The morning after the awards, Mr Varadi took to the stage to deliver a keynote address on the future of flying, where he shared his own thoughts on what’s next for air travel? The inevitable statement to acknowledge is that “The world is changing – and so are we,” he said.

Just ten years ago, in 2008, Wizz Air had just 20 aircraft, on average people in CEE were taking 0.2 flights per person per year, the iPhone had just been invented and it was taking ZERO bookings on mobile devices. Today it has a fleet of 105 aircraft, the propensity to travel has grown to 0.6 trips per person per year and the iPhone XR is the hottest tech. “We currently take around 22% of our bookings on mobile devices,” he explained.

This change will not slow, according to Mr Varadi. By 2026 Wizz Air will have 300 aircraft , it expects propensity to travel to have grown to 1.2 (still well behind Western Europe’s 2.0). “I have no idea what the hot mobile device will be – but will probably include wearable Virtual Reality – and we expect over 70% of our bookings will be on mobile devices,” he said.

While the world is changing, “there are no surprises,” Mr Varadi said. He discussed that we have all heard of the incredible technology developments that are shaping our world – driverless cars and blockchain stories dominate the media, artificial intelligence is now reality, people get identified and access data with biometric scans etc.

“These are all important and we at Wizz Air are integrating these technologies into our thinking about the future of travel and the future of our business,” he explained. But “we are more fast follower than innovator in these technologies, but they are important to our business. It is unlikely to be what sets apart the successful travel businesses of the future – everyone will have the technology in some form or other,” he added.

So if technology isn’t going to be the thing that sets companies apart in the future of travel, what will it be? “Truly great companies have something that drives them which is bigger than next quarter’s profit numbers. The more they change the more they come back to the basics – companies with a real purpose have better chance of success,” explained Mr Varadi. “Wizz Air has changed peoples lives for the better.”

He described the use of the Airbus A321 in the Wizz Air network as”a game changer” and “the most efficient narrowbody passenger aircraft”. The type will be the basis of the airline’s future fleet and help it grow its network capacity. Transitioning to A321neos will provide a “huge advantage” in operations, in terms of fuel burn, emissions and operating costs, he said. The airline holds orders for 256 A320/A321neo variants and Mr Varadi indicated, that 70% of seats in the Wizz Air network will be provided with A321 equipment by 2023.

it is “very clear that low cost will prevail,” said Mr Varadi and he argued Wizz Air’s business is “competing with other means of transportation”, not other airlines. As for the future, he said that technological developments mean “we will be having a very different discussion in 20 years time” regarding the manner in which we travel. “It is a matter of  when, not if, advanced technology is implemented for air travel”.