Celebrating its first anniversary of its Lyon base, Easyjet presence has unveiled ambitious expansion plans in France’s second largest city. During its first year, Easyjet carried a million passengers from and to Lyon with an average load factor of over 80 percent. The airline will consequently base a third aircraft next winter and boosting capacity by 30 percent. eTN took the opportunity to ask Easyjet CEO Andy Harrison to share his vision on the evolution of Easyjet and low cost airlines in Europe.
How is Easyjet doing this year?
Andy Harrison: It is certainly a difficult year for the entire airline industry. However, they are some differences. The long-haul market is down by 10 percent to 15 percent with the premium traffic being especially affected. With less disposable income, many holiday makers will prefer to have a sea and sun holiday in Italy rather than in Florida for example. This explains why short-haul traffic remains more resilient, being down by a limited 5 percent. Despite the current slowdown in Europe, we do very well with our passengers’ traffic up by over 10 percent for the first quarter 2009.
How do you explain this growth in the current crisis?
Harrison: First, our fares are on average 50 percent cheaper than legacy carriers. It is an asset of course. We experience a surge in business travellers, especially from the ones working for a SME. Last year, business travellers had a market share of 19 percent on our entire network. They grew so far to 21 percent this year. We also win market shares as we maintain and even grow our capacities when many of our competitors are reducing their offer. In many of our core markets, important players such as Alitalia or Clickair/Vueling have reduced their presence… Our yields keep also stable, at € 60 on average per coupon.
Are however some markets within Europe more affected than others?
Harrison: We do not experience significant differences from one market to another. In the UK, we continue to gain market shares as most of our competitors reduce their offer. In Central Europe, we see a weakening of commuter traffic from Central/Eastern Europeans working in Ireland, UK or in Germany. But this does not impact our growth in our global network. We continue to grow in fact in many European markets such as Berlin, Geneva, London, Lyon or Paris.
Do you see more potential for new bases in Europe or North Africa, Do you also look for new market segments?
Harrison: We certainly will continue to expand with new bases in Continental Europe as the UK market is already well served by us. I do not think that a base in North Africa might be a good solution. To make a base viable means to fly passengers early in the morning. It is difficult to implement it with a purely leisure market such as North Africa. We would however like to open services between Germany and Russia and between Germany and Turkey. However, both markets are subject to strict bilateral agreements.
When do you expect an end to the crisis?
Harrison: I think that we will face difficult times for at least another year and do not expect any strong recovery before this term.