EasyJet’s announcement in early August that it would be recruiting 28 data scientists reflects chief executive Johan Lundgren’s focus on leveraging the power of “big data”.
Those data scientists will be working under Luca Zuccoli, who has been named as the airline’s first chief data officer. He joins the UK budget carrier from consumer credit reporting agency Experian, where he was head of analytics and the Data Lab for the Asia-Pacific region.
When FlightGlobal recently spoke to Lundgren, he had just signed off on the investment in data scientists, which represented a tripling of its headcount in that discipline.
"I just think data is absolutely the key lever – I think it will take industry to the next step," he said.
Lundgren’s focus on big data can be traced to a eureka moment he experienced not long after taking up the role, when he saw in cold, hard numbers just how significant disruption was to the airline's bottom line.
"Before I took up the job, when I did my own due diligence, I was looking through some of the analyst notes and I was looking through our annual reports, and I didn't understand actually why the cost per unit didn't go down, because the company was growing," he recalls.
Fast-forward a few months and Lundgren has introduced a "recovery and resilience programme", which has become his "biggest focus", he says.
"A lot of things we can't control," he acknowledges, referring to the impact of factors such as congestion, ATC strikes and the weather. "But what we can do is mitigate the consequences of things we can control. That's where data is going to be absolutely the key thing."
Today, EasyJet's response to disruption is "a very manual process that takes up a lot of time", he says. "Those are the types of things that you should be able to do in an automated way."
To illustrate the significance of disruption, Lundgren highlights discussions around a significant internal reorganisation that was going to save EasyJet £12 million ($16 million). While such a saving is undeniably significant, he puts it in the context of the "Beast from the East" – a period of extremely cold weather that hit Europe in February of this year – which cost EasyJet £8 million across four days alone.
And the power of "big data" does not end with responding to disruption. Lundgren explains that it touches "everything from aircraft to our maintenance division, everything relating to the customer proposition, competitor issues – we know their schedules, we know their pricing".
FlightGlobal has launched the Aerospace Big Data Conference series in Miami, London and Singapore, find out more:flightglobal.com/bigdata
The full interview with EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren was originally published in the September issue of Flight Airline Business and on Flight Dashboard. Subscribe here:flightglobal.com/airlinebusiness or flightglobal.com/dashboard