easyJet expects a return to pre-pandemic levels of capacity for summer 2022, and says it is ready to deal with any further uncertainty caused by the latest COVID-19 variant.
The comments came as the budget carrier reported a headline loss before tax of £1.14 billion (£1.5 billion) for the 12 months to September 30, 2021. While that was a 36% larger loss than the previous year, easyJet said the loss was smaller than expected by the market. It carried 20.4 million passengers in the year, down 57% from the previous year, while revenue fell 52%.
Airlines worldwide have been showing signs of recovery from the pandemic but the new variant, Omicron, is causing concern and has hit share prices. Some countries such as Israel and Japan have already moved to implement new travel restrictions, while Britain has introduced additional testing rules for returning travellers.
easyJet noted it had seen “some softening of trading” in its first quarter, which covers the last three months of the 2021 calendar year.
“It’s too soon to say what impact Omicron may have on European travel and any further short-term restrictions that may result. However, we have prepared ourselves for periods of uncertainty such as this,” easyJet said in its results statement on November 30, 2021.
easyJet said the October school vacation period and Christmas bookings had been strong, echoing comments from other European low-cost carriers, like Ryanair. The airline plans to fly around 70% of its pre-pandemic capacity in its second quarter and expects capacity for summer 2022 will be near 2019 levels.
Current revenue booked for the second half of its new financial year, which covers summer 2022, is ahead of 2019 levels, easyJet announced.
easyJet has increased its operational fleet plan by 25 aircraft to “capture growth opportunities”. The carrier has added slots at London Gatwick airport, which it plans to cover with a combination of wet lease aircraft, or moving its own aircraft. easyJet said it can add more capacity via acquiring or leasing aircraft from external sources.
“Whenever you can get a slot at good times at places like this, this is something we are pleased about,” Chief executive Johan Lungren said of the additional Gatwick slots, on lease from British Airways for the medium term, during a webcast presentation. “I’m not sure British Airways would like to see us have these slots for 15 years, but we’ll see,” he said, when asked how long the additional slots could be used for.
The airline also said it had reached agreement with Airbus to take 19 A320neo family aircraft for delivery between 2025 and 2028. The aircraft had been subject to purchase rights or options, which easyJet has now decided to take up.
Lundgren commented: “In summary, we remain mindful that many uncertainties remain as we navigate the winter, but we see a unique opportunity for easyJet to win customers and take market share from rivals in this period.”