Weak legacy carriers providing growth opportunities for EasyJet: McCall

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EasyJet will continue to focus on organic growth in its existing markets during its 2013 financial year, citing the "clear opportunities" presented by the difficult trading environment for European airlines.

Speaking to analysts on the back of its full-year results on 20 November, EasyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall said rising costs and a slowing economy were combining to pose challenges for legacy carriers which their low-cost rivals could exploit.

"The future [for airlines] in Europe will involve a shift to a lower cost base and further consolidation," she says.

She singled out France, Italy and Portugal in particular as countries where there are "weak legacy incumbents". EasyJet plans to raise capacity in the French market by 8.8% in the first half of 2013 as it moves to grab market share in the wake of ongoing restructuring at Air France.

Italy too will see capacity growth of 5.9% in the first six months of the new financial year, not least due to the recent allocation of slots to EasyJet on the Milan Linate-Rome Fiumicino route, which broke Alitalia's monopoly on the service. Italy's problems were "well-documented" but opportunities remain in the "fragmented" market, McCall says.

In Portugal, EasyJet has grown to become the country's number-three carrier. It added an additional aircraft to its Lisbon base in November and capacity will be increased by 5% for 2013.

However, despite the well-publicised struggles of SAS Group, EasyJet will not target expansion in Scandinavia. "We are focussed on organic growth from our key markets. They are much lower risk as we know the markets and the airports," says McCall. She also ruled out any acquisitions in the coming year.

EasyJet's share of the business travel market rose 0.5 percentage points during the year and the carrier continues to actively target this sector, she says.

Roll-out of its allocated seating initiative is under way, the chief executive adds, with the scheme on-target to be available on all flights by the end of November.

Next year, EasyJet will continue to increase the proportion of 180-seat Airbus A320s in its fleet to take advantage of their lower unit costs when compared with the smaller A319, says chief financial officer Chris Kennedy. In the year to 30 September, the number of A320s increased by 19 aircraft to 54, or 25% of the fleet.

The increased use of the larger narrowbodies should deliver annualised savings of around £23 million ($36.6 million), says Kennedy. EasyJet will take delivery of another 10 A320s this year.

However, the carrier will retain the flexibility in its fleet mix, he insists, with any future aircraft order also including 150-seat types.

EasyJet is continuing to evaluate in-development products from Airbus, Boeing and Bombardier, says Kennedy, noting that if it places an order for the CSeries this would have to be accompanied by a commitment for a higher-capacity aircraft from either Boeing or Airbus.

As a bridge to the arrival of jets with next-generation engines, EasyJet retains 42 options for A320s with production slots available from summer 2014, he adds. These options must be exercised by 2015 at the latest to ensure delivery "all the way up" to the entry-into-service date of the newer aircraft.