UK's easyJet looks to 'fill the gaps' left by legacy carriers

UK LCC easyJet is currently only operating 39 of the more than 300 aircraft in its all-Airbus A320 family fleet, but the carrier’s executives believe it is poised to quickly react to pent-up demand if and when the COVID-19 crisis retreats later this year.

Speaking to the Routes Reconnected conference, easyJet director of airport development and procurement Simon Cox noted that pre-pandemic the carrier had 29 bases in Europe, served 159 airports and had the first or second position (in terms of traffic) at 56 airports across Europe.

“We are thoroughly committed to being a pan-European player,” Cox said. “We have the ability to operate to all of Europe. We’re very firmly in the low-cost model … We are well positioned for the recovery.”

Cox said that although the vast majority of easyJet’s fleet has been parked, the carrier can bring its A320 family aircraft back into service as demand dictates. “We’ve kept the fleet ready,” he said. “The fleet is in flight-ready condition and we’re ready to take advantage of rises in demand. We do think short haul [routes are] well placed to recover first. People do intend to book their holidays this year and are especially looking to travel in the second half of this year.”

Cox said easyJet is confident that “a critical mass of vaccinations taking place this summer” will drive governments to ease COVID-19 restrictions, allowing airline networks to come to life. “The two big barriers [to booking flights] are if people are asked to quarantine upon arrival or pay too much for a COVID-19 test," he said. "There is ample evidence that there is pent-up demand for leisure travel. Right now, the key is those government restrictions.”

He added: “What is really important to understand is that the uncertainty driven by government restrictions is what is lowering demand … When restrictions are lifted, we see a surge in demand.”

The LCC’s presence at so many airports across Europe well places easyJet to take advantage of “retrenchments coming from some legacy carriers,” Cox said, adding: “easyJet has invested at primary airports and is well positioned to fill those gaps left by legacy carriers.” He urged airports to “work with us constructively on proposals to fill the gaps.”

Photo credit: Chris J Ratcliffe / Getty Images

Aaron Karp

Aaron Karp is a Contributing Editor to the Aviation Week Network.