Eastern European low-cost airline Wizz Air has been granted an air operator’s certificate and operating licence in the UK.

Newly-formed Wizz Air UK Ltd is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wizz Air Holdings, parent of the Hungarian carrier.

The UK operation will be based out of Luton airport and consist of eight aircraft, a mixture of Airbus A321s and A320s which will feature a Union Jack.

Its first flight will take passengers from Luton to Budapest. It hopes to carry three million passengers in the first three months.

Wizz Air, including the addition of the Wizz Air UK, is now the eighth largest carrier in the UK, offering flights to 74 destinations in 23 countries from nine UK airports.

The airline applied for the licence in response to the UK’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016, but senior figures said the airline had no preference for the UK leaving or remaining – it just seeks clarity on the future of regulation such as the European open skies agreement.

Speaking at a media briefing ahead of this mornings announcement, chief executive József Váradi, said: “This [Wizz Air UK] is going to become a very sizeable operation from the beginning.

“We started UK as a contingency for Brexit but we have moved beyond that. Now it’s a platform for consolidation opportunities in the UK.”

In November, Wizz Air took the final slots at Luton vacated by Monarch after its collapse the month before. Wizz added two additional aircraft to Luton following the move.

Váradi said he expected more consolidation in the airline industry, following the demise of Monarch, Air Berlin and Alitalia, and said Brexit “could be a catalyst” for more failures – and suggested regional carriers might be vulnerable.

Wizz Air, he said, was interested in acquiring the assets of other European airlines that may follow in their footsteps, but said any move would be “opportunistic”.

Váradi, who revealed he had meetings discussing Brexit with prime minister Theresa May, was also confident of organic growth at Wizz.

He added: “Should these events [failures] happen in the future, we want to make sure that Wizz Air UK is giving us the option. We are not trying to buy other businesses or companies, we are interested in the market.”

Wizz Air, which grew by 11% in 2017 by 14% so far this year and on average at 15% a year since it was founded in 2003, is to receive delivery of 273 new aircraft by 2026, with options to up that number to around 350. The fleet will be a mixture of A321s and A320s.

Taking into consideration retirements of current aircraft, the airline hopes to have a fleet of 300 in the next eight years.

Váradi also praised fellow low-cost carrier Ryanair for “keeping us on our toes”, and said he had learnt a lot from the Irish airline.

He said by scaling over the next decade Wizz Air can be more competitive against Ryanair, and added: “If you are the lowest priced supplier in any industry, you are going to be fine.”