Air Transport World

Proud to be Orange: EasyJet discounts comparisons with larger and more profitable Ryanair, but its purchase of GB Airways suggests it has big ambitions.(PROFILE)(easyJet Airline Company Ltd.)(Company overview)

PERHAPS EASYJET GOT TIRED OF ITS moniker: Europe's second-largest low-cost carrier. Or perhaps CEO Andrew Harrison decided he had better move before someone else did. In either case, the LCC's purchase of GB Airways in late October for [pounds sterling]103.5 million ($212.1 million) in cash has altered the competitive landscape by making easyJet the leading short-haul carrier at London Gatwick while further cementing the lead over Ryanair in terms of revenues that it gained when it acquired Go Fly, British Airways' low-fare airline subsidiary, in May 2002.


Yet it still lags its Irish archrival in numbers of passengers carried and, more importantly from an investor perspective, Ryanair earns far more money on an absolute level and as a percentage of revenue. This is a distinction with a difference, and one reason Harrison was brought onboard was to improve easyJet's profitability, which he has achieved. But he also is unwilling to concede the high ground, claiming to be the continent's "leading low-fares airline" in more ways than one.

"We are low cost with care and convenience," he emphasizes. Dressed in an orange shirt and confirming he's "proud to be orange," he points out that his carrier is leading the way in offering customers the "lowest fares to Europe's most popular and convenient airports," a dig at Ryanair's preference for secondary and tertiary airports. EasyJet's network encompasses several of Europe's main hubs like Amsterdam Schiphol, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly, Madrid Barajas, Milan Malpensa and Geneva. It also is taking a lead role in challenging the industry's negative environmental image while simultaneously working to improve it.


Leading or largest, in essence it does not matter because, as Harrison says, "easyJet is an incredible success story." This calendar year it will carry almost 40 million passengers, propelling it past British Airways, Iberia and SAS. "In twelve years time, we grew into Europe's fourth-largest airline [in passengers]," he affirms. Among European carriers, only Air France KLM, Lufthansa and Ryanair will uplift more passengers this year. It operates some 905 daily flights on a network spanning 352 routes among 88 airports in 23 countries. As of its Sept. 30 fiscal year end, its fleet comprised 107 A319s and 30 737-700s with a further 120 A319s on firm order plus 88 options.

"With such an investment in aircraft I'm not sure if the term budget carrier is pertinent," Harrison reflects. …

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