Increasing seat numbers in aircraft is a good way to drive down cost-per-seat, as EasyJet has been successful in implementing for some time.
The airline is in a good position at the moment. Its annual results to 30 September 2018 showed profit before tax for the year at £578 million (up £170 million or 41.4 per cent on 2017), a record number of passengers flown at 88.5 million (up 10.2 per cent) with a record load factor of 92.9 per cent (up 0.3 per cent).
That load factor also helped to increase revenue per seat by 6.4 per cent to £61.94. This would have been 8.3 per cent but for the acquisition of part of Air Berlin’s operations at Berlin-Tegel for €40 million, which produced a loss of £112 million.
The airline has also been positioning itself ahead of Brexit, moving some of its 315 aircraft to EasyJet Europe under an Austrian AOC, augmenting the UK and Swiss AOCs.
So how did EasyJet get to its current position?
The airline started Airbus A319 operations in 2003 with aircraft fitted with 156 seats from Weber, galley from Aim Aviation, and two toilets. Later deliveries from 2008 were fitted with the Airbus enhanced cabin, while the first A320s arrived a year later, with 180 Weber seats and an additional toilet.
Following an evaluation programme, Recaro SL3510 lightweight seats with fabric covers were selected in 2013, saving 580kg per aircraft. The selection process included using candidate seats in a conference room, with feedback reports on comfort over time.
In 2016, the company launched its future Cabin project, which saw the introduction of the Airbus Space-Flex v2 galley, increasing capacity to 186 seats. The maximum limit for this layout is 189 seats, but the compromise in passenger comfort and privacy (jammed next to a flight attendant seat) was too much.
This was destined for 42 new A320s and 130 Airbus A320neos but, towards the end of the year, an ambitious retrofit programme got underway to add Space-Flex v2 to 105 aircraft. This involved five modification lines at MROs across Europe.
A total of 50 aircraft were modified in the first year, but the programme was suspended in 2017 and has resumed in 2018, to be completed in Spring 2020. Taking advantage of changes in the industry, 2017 saw the introduction of 19 aircraft from the former fleets of Air Berlin and Monarch, which were reconfigured into a standard easyJet layout.
Initially, the original galleys were retained for faster conversion and entry into service, but the younger aircraft will enter the Space-Flex v2 conversion line. That year also saw a wifi trial, but no decision has yet been made on whether this will be adopted generally.
The first A320neo arrived in 2017, while the first A321neo made its debut at the Farnborough Airshow in July 2018. This has 235 seats with e-leather covers and is the largest aircraft in the fleet to date.
The impact on the costs of these various programmes has been significant. Moving from the A319 to the A320 saw an improvement in cost per seat of up to 6 per cent, while the A320 neo provided up to 7 per cent. The A321 neo has delivered a further 9 per cent. While Space-Flex v2 adds just six seats, the airline calculates nearly 2 million extra passengers have been flown.
In other news, EasyJet’s partnership with DHL is expanding even further.