EasyJet founder and leading stakeholder Stelios Haji-Ioannou has hit out at the airline’s deferral of aircraft orders, accusing the carrier of “kicking the can down the road”.
Low-cost giant easyJet announced last week that it would defer delivery of 24 Airbus aircraft over the next two years as the carrier conserves funds and reins in post-Covid crisis expansion plans.
However, Sir Stelios pointed out easyJet has more than 100 aircraft on order.
He said: “They are not telling investors how many Airbus aircraft easyJet will go ahead and pay for and how much per aircraft during the next six months using UK taxpayers’ money.
“A deferral is the same as kicking the can down the road.”
EasyJet became the first carrier to tap into the UK government’s emergency loan scheme on April 7, announcing it had taken £600 million from the Covid Corporate Financing Facility.
The carrier also drew on a revolving credit facility to extend its cash reserves to £2.3 billion.
Sir Stelios has been sharply critical of easyJet’s expansion plans and has agitated for the removal of easyJet chief financial officer Andrew Findlay over a £4.5 billion order with Airbus.
He has also threatened to call for the removal of directors, describing his relations with the board as “at an all-time low”.
The Haji-Ioannou family retains a 34% stake in easyJet, founded in 1995, making Sir Stelios by far the biggest shareholder.
A previous feud between him and easyJet’s management board in 2008-09 ended with the departure of then chief executive Andy Harrison.
A period of relative calm followed under the tenure of Carolyn McCall, who ran easyJet from 2010 to 2017 before leaving to take over as head of ITV.
McCall was replaced by Johan Lundgren at the end of 2017.
The latest row is seen as damaging, especially in the current crisis, with Sir Stelios’ criticism attracting support among some fellow shareholders.
One unnamed ‘top-20 shareholder’ told business newspaper the Financial Times that Sir Stelios “does look more right now on the aircraft orders”.
Another told the newspaper: “I have sympathy for Stelios and his questions about the Airbus negotiations. Companies are having to review everything.”
However, Sir Stelios has also come in for criticism after refusing to defer payment of a £60 million dividend he received from easyJet in March.
Lundgren has promised more information on the carrier’s future fleet plans in a trading update on April 16.