The European low-cost carrier Wizz Air set an unprecedented precedent throughout the aviation industry. When other airlines were taking a step back, limiting their capacity and any expansion plans, the purple-colored airline announced 10 new bases. But seemingly, its tenth step was too far. Ryanair immediately responded to Wizz Air expansion plans – now, the two low-cost carriers dug out their trenches for a war of attrition in Italy.

On September 8, 2020, Wizz Air announced its tenth new base of 2020 in Catania, Italy. The second-largest city in Sicily will host two Airbus A321 aircraft from October 2020. From here, the carrier will offer flights to over 20 destinations available, five of which will be on newly-introduced routes. Catania Airport (CTA) would become Wizz Air’s second Italian base, as its first one is located in Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP).

Wizz Air will also introduce flights from Sicily to London Luton Airport (LTN) and Memmingen Airport (FMM) in Bavaria, Germany.

“The opening of a base at CTA by Wizz Air didn't surprise me at all for two reasons,” argued Enzo Zangrilli, a senior aviation consultant at 1Aviation. Firstly, Catania is Sicily’s portal for leisure and business travelers.

“Secondly, Wizz Air has clearly shifted their strategy in the last six months by investing in an area (Western Europe) which previously wasn't an explicit target, as showcased by its new bases in Cyprus, Milan Malpensa, and Tirana,” Zangrilli observed. 

But judging by the response, it seemed like the Hungary-registered airline overstepped Ryanair’s boundaries.

The Irish response

Ryanair was very quick to react to Wizz Air’s impromptu move into CTA. Three days later, on September 11, 2020, the Irish low-cost carrier issued two press releases. Both of them had the same keywords in their titles ‒ Ryanair “responds to high demand by increasing flights […]”. At the forefront of the plans are domestic flights, as the Irish airline will increase the frequency of flights from Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) to Bari Karol Wojtyła Airport (BRI) from three to nine per week. Meanwhile, Catania Airport (CTA) will see Ryanair’s presence grow by 28 additional weekly flights to Bologna, Milan, Rome, and Venice airports.

Both airlines are set to fly the new frequencies starting October 2020. With the exception of Ryanair increasing weekly frequencies from CTA to MXP, the two companies’ announcements are identical in terms of the increased capacity on Italy’s domestic flight network.

New Wizz Air and Increased Ryanair frequency routes in Italy

The Irish low-cost carrier increasing its capacity in the airport is no doubt a response to Wizz Air, noted Zangrilli. While it will benefit the consumer with lower ticket prices, “you can certainly argue that this situation is not sustainable and it only aims at ultimately making the other airlines bleed cash and withdraw from these routes.”

Ryanair is a very dominant force in Italy. The low-cost carrier is the largest airline in the country by a postcode. According to the Ente Nazionale per l'Aviazione Civile (ENAC), the civil aviation authority of Italy, the low-cost carrier welcomed 40 million passengers on its aircraft to and from the country. Alitalia, the second-largest airline in terms of passenger numbers, carried only 21.7 million travelers in 2019.

Filling opening gaps

Within the previous year, two gaps have opened over the skies of Italy. In December 2019, Ernest Airlines, a small Italian low-cost carrier with a fleet of four Airbus A320 family aircraft, was publicly threatened by ENAC. The authority requested the company to provide documents regarding its financial situation if it wanted to retain its operating license. The authority gave Ernest Airlines two weeks to resolve the issue.