Airports opportunities drive EasyJet’s London push

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EasyJet’s new long-term deals with the London airports of Gatwick and Luton will herald a sharp increase in its capacity at the two facilities.

The carrier plans to lift capacity at Gatwick, already is already its largest base with 57 aircraft, by 10% over the next 12 months. Its deal with Luton, the third largest base in its network, meanwhile will see it increase capacity at the airport a fifth over the next year.

The two long-term deals come after it in October closed a five-year deal which could see it double traffic at another London airport, Stansted. It also operates a small operation from London Southend. The deals notably come amid the changed ownership and management of London’s airports, which has seen Stansted join Gatwick under new owners and an AENA-led consortium takeover the running of Luton.

The commitments to increase capacity at its London airports are also set against an improving economic outlook for the UK. But EasyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall says the expansion was driven by the opportunity to lock in price-certainty and influence airport infrastructure rather than because of an improved economic picture.

"It’s not about the macro-environment, though it is always helpful when the consumer feels they have more money to spend," she says. "These are definitely opportunities. It's been a breakthrough with Gatwick, and at a different level, I feel like that about Luton too."

The increase in capacity will be deployed across a mix of new routes, extra frequencies and operating larger aircraft on existing routes. Typically around 60% of EasyJet's extra capacity is deployed on thickening routes.

This capacity will in part come from new aircraft deliveries and from the continuing rebalancing of the fleet with larger A320s. “Every new aircraft that comes into EasyJet is an A320. So you get an extra 24 seats,” says McCall. “You are getting a lot of benefits in growth terms from the upgauge rather than just adding more aircraft all the time.”

According to Flightglobal’s Ascend database, the airline’s current fleet comprises 153 A319s and 67 A320s. “We do use the A319s in a different way and we’ll always need A319s, but the [fleet] proportion of A319s today is more than the A320s, so we’ll switch that,” says McCall. “But we’ll always need some A319s in our fleet.”