< Reveal sidebar

Do Low-Cost Carriers Fly Slower?

How two aircraft of the same make and model can differ substantially.

Wizz Air will operate its A320 family aircraft on new Abu Dhabi flights. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Aron Mester)

Travelers looking to fly to the Maldives through one of the Middle Eastern gateways might notice one strange disadvantage to flying to their destination with Wizz Air. The carrier seems to be taking longer than its competitors to fly the route.

Not All Aircraft Are Made The Same

While Wizz Air flies only their Airbus A321neo aircraft on the route, Etihad Airways is flying a mix of Boeing 787s and its A321ceos. At first glance, the aircraft advantage might be on the Wizz Air side. The A321neo version of the type is newer, thus usually the aircraft operated by Wizz Air will be a few years younger than its counterpart.

The reality is, the flight time of Wizz Air is listed as 5:20, while Etihad flying the same route has it at 4:20 or 4:25 depending on the aircraft. The difference is significant, and the actual flight times prove its existence.

Abu Dhabi to Malé flight schedule (Photo: Google Flights)

The Flightpath Solves The Mystery

The source of the difference becomes apparent when looking at the flight path of the aircraft. While Etihad, or even low-cost Flydubai for that matter, fly an almost direct route over the Arabian Sea, Wizz Air makes quite a detour along the coast of the Indian subcontinent.

Visiting India is definitely not part of the ticket sold by Wizz Air. A longer flight also means more fuel, crew, and other costs for the carrier.

The reason is quite technical. The International Civil Aviation Organization requires a very specific certification to allow for flights over large bodies of water or other remote areas. Extended-range Twin-engine Operations Performance Standards, ETOPS in short, is the technical term used for flights where the flight paths take the aircraft more than 60 minutes away from a suitable diversion airport, and it has been developed to ensure that if a twin-engine aircraft encounters any trouble on the way it can safely make it to a diversion airport with only one engine running.

The Wizz Air AUH-MLE flight path (Photo: flightradar24.com)

A Plane Is Not Enough

The ETOPS certification is not purely granted based on the aircraft type and configuration. This is only a prerequisite. The next step is certifying the airline to actually perform the ETOPS flights. The operator has to prove to its home country’s aviation regulatory body that it is capable of ETOPS flights as an organization. This includes compliance with additional special engineering and flight crew procedures in addition to the normal ones.

Although the carrier does not explicitly mention the reason for the lack of ETOPS certification, it is speculated that this is merely a cost-saving measure. The lack of the certificate has no impact on the safety of passengers when flying the route.

Filip Kopeć
Latest posts by Filip Kopeć (see all)


  • Filip Kopeć

    A passionate aviation enthusiast that started off his career as an aerospace engineer, but found his true calling on the commercial side of the airline business. Now as a finance guy among avgeeks and an avgeek among finance guys, he has experience working in the Revenue Divisions of three airlines. In his spare time he enjoys traveling, but admittedly sometimes is more about the journey than the destination.

Subscribe to AirlineGeeks' Daily Check-In

Receive a daily dose of the airline industry's top stories along with market insights right in your inbox.

Related Stories

How Aircraft Sale and Leaseback Transactions Work

In the world of commercial aviation, an airline may not always own all the aircraft that it flies. In some…

Diving into Airline Operational KPIs

In the dynamic and ever-evolving airline industry, on-time performance (OTP) plays a key role in determining success, especially during major…