EasyJet founder and shareholder Stelios Haji-Iaonnou has refused to inject any fresh capital into the UK budget airline while a contract to acquire further Airbus jets remains in place, and is turning his wrath on chief financial officer Andrew Findlay.
Haji-Ioannou has named Findlay as the second director he aims to remove from his position, while he persists with efforts to oust Andreas Bierwirth.
EasyJet chairman John Barton has, according to Haji-Ioannou, delayed an “inevitable” shareholder meeting over Bierwirth’s position for technical reasons but this appears simply to have inflamed Haji-Ioannou’s ire.
The power struggle has erupted as EasyJet – like many airlines – faces financial pressure arising from the grounding of its fleet over the coronavirus crisis.
Haji-Ioannou claims an outstanding order for 107 Airbus aircraft should be cancelled or renegotiated as it represents a heavy and unnecessary capital expenditure commitment.
The airline’s share price has fallen by close to 70% since mid-February.
“Terminating the Airbus contract is the only chance current shareholders have to maintain any value in their shares,” insists Haji-Ioannou.
He argues that, if the contract is cancelled, EasyJet will not need UK government loans and its “best chance to survive and thrive” will come from shareholder equity injections.
But he stresses: “I will certainly not be throwing good money after bad. For the avoidance of doubt, I will not inject any fresh equity in EasyJet whilst the Airbus [contract] is in place.”
Haji-Ioannou’s family holds 34% of EasyJet. But he says he will “enlist support” from other shareholders to terminate the Airbus deal because, he adds, EasyJet needs a plan to reduce its fleet size under the current circumstances and “will not need any more additional new [aircraft] for many years to come”.