EasyJet cheers Easter sales boost and poaches Ryanair operations boss

Low-cost airline easyJet has cheered an 11% surge in sales thanks to this year’s later Easter as the group revealed it has poached a new operations chief from rival Ryanair.

The carrier said it plans to appoint Peter Bellew, who has held the same role of chief operations officer since December 2017 at Ryanair, where he is responsible for all the group’s flight operations.

The appointment is seen as a coup for the group, which has suffered a difficult 2019 so far and was recently booted out of the FTSE 100 Index after hefty share price falls.

It saw revenues rise 11.4% to £1.8 billion in the three months to June 30 as the timing of Easter helped offset falling demand amid Brexit uncertainty.

The no-frills carrier said the later Easter boosted revenues by around £40 million, while it flew another two million passengers in the quarter – up 8% at 26.4 million.

It said revenue per seat, which reflects air fares, rose 0.7% – helped in part by a surge in late summer bookings.

The group confirmed it remained on track for annual pre-tax profits of between £400 million and £440 million, with second-half bookings 78% sold.

But easyJet said it had seen some “softening of demand due to tougher macroeconomic conditions across Europe as well as Brexit-related consumer uncertainty in the UK”.

Its load factor – a measure of how well it fills its planes – fell by 1.7 percentage points to 91.7%, partly due to a strong performance a year earlier when it benefited from the demise of rival Monarch.

Johan Lundgren, easyJet chief executive, said: “EasyJet’s third-quarter performance was robust and despite the tougher macroeconomic conditions was in line with expectations.”

Shares in easyJet lifted more than 3% after the bullish update, which comes amid a difficult time for the sector.

Rival Ryanair revealed earlier this week it plans to slash services, with cuts and closures at some of its bases from this winter due to delays to aircraft deliveries amid the Boeing 737 Max aircraft crisis.

In June, Lufthansa warned over profits for the second time this year amid intense competition.

Richard Hunter, head of markets at interactive investor, said: “EasyJet is pushing hard to make something of a comeback, following a torrid year which culminated in its being relegated from the FTSE 100.”

But Laith Khalaf, a senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said despite a more rosy outlook for the second half, full year profits will still be “significantly behind last year” after it posted record interim losses.