BRUSSELS—Despite its hints to the contrary, British low-cost carrier will not say whether it is interested in installing an additional eight seats or possibly even an additional two rows of seats on its future 320s.
"Our conversations with Airbus are confidential," stresses Chief Financial Officer Chris Kennedy, "but, just wait and see."
As revealed by Aviation Week, Airbus has started working with the (EASA) to have its recertified for a maximum load of 186 passengers. Airlines are currently allowed to fly the aircraft with a maximum of 180 seats, but Airbus would like to add an extra row to further increase efficiency. The move was triggered by Airbus’ win of the Vueling fleet order last August.
EasyJet in 2002 made an order for 120 A319s conditional on Airbus equipping the aircraft with an additional six seats and recertifying the aircraft for a maximum load of 156 seats.
The LCC last year signed a purchase agreement with Airbus for 100aircraft for delivery between 2017 and 2022, plus 100 purchase rights for any A320neo family aircraft. It also exercised 33 options and two purchase rights for A320ceo aircraft under an existing contract with Airbus for delivery between 2015 and 2017.
The airline has put flexible fleet arrangements in place to respond to appropriately to market conditions, with a maximum, minimum and base-case fleet size scenario. "If we have the right return on the capacity, we’ll put the aircraft in. If not, we’ll take it out", Kennedy said during an analyst call discussing easyJet’s results for the fiscal first-half. He declined to disclose the notice period for firming the purchase rights, but indicated it "typically is the time to produce the aircraft".
The maximum scenario will see easyJet grow its fleet from 226 aircraft at the end of its current fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30, to 300 units at the end of fiscal year 2022. The contractual minimum foresees a reduction of the fleet size to 173 aircraft.
The airline is gradually introducing more A320s in its fleet while reducing its A319 fleet, and A320s now account for 30% of its fleet as compared to 27% a year earlier. EasyJet’s total fleet as at March 31 comprised 220 aircraft, split between 156 seat A319s and 180 seat A320s.
The changed fleet mix, lower than expected levels of de-icing and disruption in the second quarter and cost reduction initiatives for ground handling and fuel only partially offset the increases in charges at regulated airports, the increased maintenance costs associated with the planned ageing of the fleet and an increased proportion of leased aircraft in the fleet year-on-year.
Easyjet reported a narrowing of half-year losses, helped by a rise in the number of business passengers and tight control on costs. The carrier recorded a net loss of £41 million for the six months to March 31, against a £41 million loss a year earlier. Total revenues rose 6.3% to £1.7 billion.
Chief Executive Carolyn McCall said the airline delivered "a solid first half performance despite the less benign capacity environment. The results reflect our ongoing progress against our strategic priorities, and demonstrate the structural advantage easyJet has against both legacy and low cost competition in the European short haul market."
Under McCall, easyJet has targeted the higher-yield business passenger with a number of initiatives including allocated seats, fast-track boarding, flexible tickets and a new distribution agreement with Travelport. It has partnered with Sabre to enhance its booking process and is focusing its network strategy on "higher return" routes between primary and secondary airports such as, Milan Malpensa, Rome Fiumicino, Amsterdam, Geneva and Paris Orly.
EasyJet says its strategy is to continue to build positions of strength in its key markets "to take advantage of competitor retrenchment and to reallocate aircraft to the routes and bases which will deliver the highest return on capital employed."