EasyJet is putting criticisms that it does not have the aircraft to play a major role in the reshuffling of Europe’s aviation market to rest with a deal to expand its firm aircraft orderbook by more than half.
The UK-based discounter plans to exercise 56 options for Airbus A320neo family aircraft, and convert 18 A320neo orders to the larger A321neo, EasyJet told investors on June 21. Once the deal is finalized, the newly ordered planes would arrive between 2026 and 2029. EasyJet had firm orders for 115 A320neo family jets at the end of March.
“The proposed purchase … [continues] the company’s fleet refresh, as the older A319s and A320s leave the airline and new A320 and A321neo aircraft enter, providing benefits to EasyJet through upgauging, cost efficiencies and sustainability enhancements,” EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said in a statement.
Available aircraft is proving one of the deciding factor in the recovery of European air travel. Ryanair’s brash CEO Michael O’Leary has repeatedly claimed that his carrier’s robust orderbook of more than 200 aircraft makes Ryanair the “only airline taking sufficient aircraft deliveries to take up those opportunities,” those opportunities being the gaps left by shrinking legacy carriers. Not to be left out, discount growth juggernaut Wizz Air ordered another 102 aircraft last November that boosted its orderbook to more than 300 aircraft. International Airlines Group (IAG), Alitalia successor ITA Airways, and KLM have also placed significant aircraft orders in recent months.
The orders come as European airlines, including EasyJet, struggle to get their operational houses in order this summer. On June 20, EasyJet cited operational issues across Europe in a decision to lower its capacity outlook for the summer. The airline will fly three points less than it previously planned, or 87 percent of its 2019 capacity, in the June quarter; and seven points less, or 90 percent, in the September quarter.
“Given the unprecedented ramp up, the aviation industry across Europe is experiencing operational issues with root causes similar to the post covid supply chain issues being seen in many other parts of the economy,” EasyJet told investors. “The challenges include air traffic control delays and staff shortages in ground handling and at airports, resulting in increased aircraft turnaround times and delayed departures which have a knock-on effect resulting in flight cancellations.”
EasyJet’s planned order is its latest move to ward off competitors, and show it remains a force in European aviation. Following a reported takeover bid by Wizz Air, the airline raised £1.2 billion ($1.5 billion) in new capital last September and unveiled a three-pronged growth plan that included doubling down in its core markets, expanding the breadth of its route map, and building new focus cities across the continent.
Under that growth plan, EasyJet secured additional slots in Lisbon earlier in June that will allow it to base three additional aircraft in the Portuguese capital this winter. The carrier will become the second largest in Lisbon, after hometown TAP Air Portugal, with the additional flights. EasyJet has also acquired additional slots at London Gatwick, Milan Linate, and some Greek airports.
EasyJet plans to use the majority of its newly ordered aircraft to replace older models in its fleet. Whether or not it also increases the number of planes it flies, the new A320neo and A321neos seat on average 211 passengers compared to 171 passengers on the A319s and A320s they would replace. That upgauging alone will represent growth, as well as help improve fuel efficiency and lower operating costs.
EasyJet operated 322 A320-family aircraft at the end of March, according to its latest fleet plan.