Speaking at Eurocontrol’s Aviation Hardtalk webinar on Monday 22 March, Johan Lundgren, CEO of easyJet called for governments to embrace a ‘risk-based framework to unlock travel.’
Lundgren confirmed that in his 30 plus years within the industry, this is the worst crisis he has faced. Citing recent flight data, Lundgren noted that back in March 2019, easyJet was operating 1700 flights per day. Last week, daily flights were down to just 231.
Lundgren is of the view that Covid cases will be around for some time and that improved testing will be needed to identify new Covid variants. Lundgren says that (governments) cannot take a zero approach to the virus, as this would require the closure of the borders and this is not a sustainable position, as ‘society is not set up that way.’ Lundgren noted that ‘The objective is to get a framework to allow travel to take place with no restrictions in place.’
However, Lundgren does see ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ with the vaccine programme. ‘The key to unlocking travel is the successful roll out of the vaccine programme,’ he commented. ‘Vaccinations de-link cases of Covid to hospitalisations and deaths.’ The more you can roll out vaccines, the faster you can reduce restrictions. ‘Vaccine certificates are part of the mix. It’s a helpful contributor (to travel)’
Moving on to the current situation at easyJet, Lundgren commented that ‘we can’t wait to start flying again.’ ‘The underlying demand is there for VFR and leisure as well as business travel. It’s not correct to say business travel will not come back. It may take a bit longer but it will take place.’
Thinking back 12 months, Lundgren said that easyJet didn’t know how long the crisis would last but that they needed to ensure they had enough cash to survive. This required a restructuring of the business to be best placed for recovery. Lundgren claims that easyJet is a better airline now than before the pandemic, citing the ability of passengers to cancel and re-book their own flights as well as easyJet holidays being developed to take advantage of the upsurge in demand for holidays.
When asked about the state support other carriers in Europe have received, Lundgren commented that he wasn’t worried about state support as such but about the amount of aid given. Lundgren believes the amount of support provided is greater than is needed for survival and may give these airlines the ability to take advantage of opportunities not open to those that didn’t receive state support. ‘This distorts the system. It’s not fair if these airlines get a competitive advantage from this.’
Lundgren again dismissed arguments from carriers such as Ryanair, which has complained that the EU has extended slot waivers into the upcoming summer season. ‘Ryanair’s argument is nonsense, they can use the slots now.’ This does however, ignore the fact that slots made available now from carriers such as easyJet, carry no historic rights, so could not be used by other airlines the following summer.
Sustainable aviation was the last main topic covered in this wide-ranging interview. Lundgren was keen to point out that easyJet already offset the carbon emissions of all its fuel, noting that the carrier is positioned well for sustainability. Lundgren believes sustainability will become a competitive point. Our carbon offsetting programme is encouraging people to fly with us. ‘We didn’t do this for a competitive advantage, we just thought it was right to do,” he noted. ‘This is one piece of the equation. Zero emissions are the goal.’
Lundgren believes the way forward is a combination of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) and electric and hydrogen powered aircraft. For long-haul flights, SAF will be used. For short haul, electric or hydrogen engines are the way forward. Until these technologies are widely available, Lundgren sees offsetting as a bridge to enable aviation to become sustainable in the short-term. Lundgren believes it’s only a matter of time until we see 180-seat jets operated by electric or hydrogen engines. He sees this technology as a ‘big industry opportunity’ and to encourage additional research and development, governments should be incentivising and investing in these projects. Prioritising trains over planes or introducing minimum fares is not the right way forward, believes Lundgren.
Time will of course tell how quickly new technology will allow airlines to get to zero emissions and there is a hope that this time next year we will be a little bit closer and that aviation will have returned to some form of normality.