Easyjet eyes higher-density A320

23 Apr 2015 by GrahamSmith

Easyjet "might" increase the number of seats on future A320 aircraft, the carrier's chief executive has said.

Carolyn McCall made the admission as the airline took delivery of its 250th Airbus aircraft in Hamburg, although she wouldn't be drawn on when this could happen.

Easyjet's A320 seats 180 passengers but Airbus has developed a higher-density 189-seat variant. In March, IAG subsidiary Vueling took delivery of a 186-seater version (see forum discussion here).

Easyjet\\\\\\\\'s 250th Airbus aircraft

Easyjet's 250th Airbus aircraft at the manufacturer's factory in Hamburg

The European Aviation Safety Agency has indicated that the aircraft's configuration could potentially go as high as 195.

Easyjet's all-Airbus fleet is made up of A320s and A319s. It has 158 A320s and new-generation A320neo aircraft on order.

McCall said that the option of upgrading any of these to the longer-range A321neo was "under review".

While she acknowledged that doing so would enable the airline to fly further afield — saying, "If we take the A321neo that would allow us to do a bit more of that" — McCall said the airline had no plans to enter the long-haul market.

She said: "Easyjet does not see low-cost long-haul as something it wants to do for the foreseeable future. We believe there is a lot of opportunity in short-haul Europe that we haven't taken advantage of yet.

"We see so many low-risk opportunities to expand in the markets we know and understand well.

"Even in the UK and Switzerland, two of our most established markets, we would say we could put assets in there we could still grow profitably and do very well. So when you've got that opportunity short-haul, there's no point looking at something very high-risk which is distracting and diverting."

Easyjet\\\\\\\\'s 250th Airbus aircraft in Hamburg

Easyjet is the youngest airline to have taken delivery of 250 Airbus aircraft and the quickest to do so, having hit the 200 mark only four years ago.

McCall said: "By 2019, we'd be disappointed if we weren't over 300 aircraft."

She added that "the bulk" of future deliveries would go on consolidating its existing network. "About 70 per cent of capacity will go into thickening and consolidating what we already do, and about 30 per cent on new destinations, new routes, interesting different things – some experimentation on what we might do."

McCall also repeated her call for more runway capacity at Heathrow, despite Gatwick being the airline's biggest base.

She said: "We think Gatwick is a brilliant airport. It satisfies our needs very well, it's a great short-haul airport. We have nearly 60 aircraft in Gatwick so it's very important to us.

"[But] when we look at extra runway capacity in the UK, we would say there is absolutely no passenger need or demand to have an extra runway at Gatwick and we would be paying a huge amount of money to pre-fund that runway when there is no demand for it.

Easyjet\\\\'s 250th Airbus jet at Hamburg HQ

"You can double capacity at Stansted and at Luton so there is capacity in the southeast of England.

"Where there isn't capacity is Heathrow. That is where passenger need is and where the airline need is.

"We bought all the slots from Flybe when they exited Gatwick [25 pairs] and it cost us £20 million. The last slot pair auction at Heathrow was £25 million [although some slot pairs can go for as high as £40 million depending on the time of day]. That's where the demand is and where airlines are queuing to get in so if you're going to have capacity, it really needs to be at Heathrow.

"We've made a rational economic argument about it. We want to work well with Gatwick. We have a long-term deal with them and we're always going to operate from Gatwick, so it's important that we have a good relationship with them.

"But if you're talking about the UK and the demand in London, the demand is at Heathrow."

She said she hoped that there would be "clear-cut political backing" for the recommendations of the Airports Commission, due after the general election, "so that the debates can stop".

Michelle Harbi

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