Wizz Air, eastern Europe's top no-frills airline, plans London float

LONDON/BUDAPEST Thu May 22, 2014 8:09am EDT

LONDON/BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Wizz Air, central eastern Europe's largest airline, plans to list its shares on the London Stock Exchange (LSE.L), seeking to raise 200 million euros ($273.3 million) to strengthen its balance sheet as it seeks more growth.

Wizz Air, which started to fly 10 years ago, is the largest budget airline of central and eastern Europe with a market share of 38 percent, and makes money while traditional local airlines have struggled or went bust in recent years.

"We will continue to grow the business. New markets can be stimulated," Chief Executive Jozsef Varadi told Reuters on Thursday. He said the company, which has a fleet of 46 Airbus (AIR.PA) planes, plans to expand its fleet to 82 Airbus A320s by the end of 2017.

Wizz, whose no-frills rivals include Ryanair (RYA.I) and EasyJet (EZJ.L), said it aimed to complete its share sale next month but gave no detail on the number of shares it plans to sell or at what price.

The listing comes as London sees a surge in stock market flotations, with 30 companies raising $7.4 billion so far this year, up 163 percent on the year before, according to Thomson Reuters data.

However not all listing plans have completed. Fashion retailer Fat Face for instance pulled its proposal on Thursday.

In Hungary, where Wizz Air started in 2004, national flag carrier Malev went bankrupt in 2012 after years of heavy losses and repeated government attempts to save it. Wizz Air stepped in and was able to sharply increase its capacity in Budapest.

FLAG CARRIERS STRUGGLE

Other flag carriers have also struggled in the region. Poland's LOT LOT.UL turned a profit for the first time last year after years of heavy losses, while Czech Airlines (CSA) has also struggled to operate a profitable business.

Meanwhile Wizz Air grew to fly 13.9 passengers in the year through March, compared with 4.6 million for LOT in 2013 and 2.9 million for CSA in 2012, the last year with available data.

Wizz Air had revenue of 1 billion euros in the fiscal year through March 2014 and net profit of 89 million - nearly tripling its level the previous year.

Varadi said he wanted Wizz Air to benefit from consolidation in the sector. "We expect more consolidation in the market. It is hard to say when and where but we expect consolidation and we want to be able to act."

The airline's nine base countries serve 35 countries in Europe, more than any other low-cost airline in the region, Varadi said.

"We believe that pricing is of key importance to customers," Varadi said. "We try to be the local airline to them. We have 19 languages on our website, and accept 17 currencies."

Ascend Aviation analyst Peter Morris said Wizz Air has a competitive advantage over traditional airlines in the region.

"Wizz Air has no baggage, no inadequate fleet or staff like its flag carrier competitors," he said.

The listing is being run by Barclays (BARC.L), Citi (C.N) and JP Morgan (JPM.N), with Nomura 9716.t acting as lead manager.

(Editing by Erica Billingham and David Holmes)

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