EasyJet chief leaves airline on a high

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The Independent Online
Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder and chairman of easyJet, bowed out as chairman yesterday amid plans to launch up to one dozen new "easy" ventures as the no-frills airline reported a sharp rise in profits in one of the industry's toughest ever 12-month periods.</p>The changeover, which saw Sir Colin Chandler take the helm as chairman, will give Mr Haji-Ioannou more time to focus on other easyGroup companies such as easyCar and easyInternetcafé. EasyCinema, a no-frills cinema venture, is expected to be launched within the next four months, Mr Haji-Ioannou said.</p>The departure will not change the airline's relationship with easyGroup, Mr Haji-Ioannou's privately owned company that retains control of the "easy" brand under a licensing deal struck when the airline listed on the London stock market. Neither will it change the carrier's use of easyGroup's trademark orange livery, Mr Haji-Ioannou said.</p>EasyJet, which acquired its rival Go for £374m at the end of July, topped market expectations with a 78 per cent increase in pre-tax profits to £71.6m, helped by the inclusion of two months of Go. Its sales rose 55 per cent to £552m.</p>Ray Webster, easyJet's chief executive, said consumer demand remained strong but the group faced a number of uncertainties including the threat of war in the Middle East, terrorist activity and the consumer environment.</p>The airline said the average fares paid by the customer fell 4 per cent from £48 to £46, while costs per available seat kilometre declined 1.3 per cent to 4.46p. The shares fell 14 per cent to 337p on City concern that increased competition could put pressure on the group next year.</p>Mr Webster said the Go integration should be complete by next March, by which time the group should have decided whether to exercise its option to buy Deutsche BA from British Airways. "I'm optimistic we will press ahead," he said.</p>Mr Haji-Ioannou, who set up the airline in 1995 and remains on the board, said any decision to sell down his 22 per cent stake would be "as unpredictable as possible". His brother and sister own a further 12 per cent each. </p>