EasyJet has finally sealed a deal to buy 135 jets worth about $13bn (£8bn) from Airbus, sparking a fresh battle with its founder and biggest shareholder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou.
The budget carrier has been negotiating about expanding its fleet with both the European manufacturer Airbus and its US rival Boeing, but yesterday put in an order for 35 Airbus A320s for delivery by 2017, 100 new A320neos for delivery from 2017 to 2022, and options on 100 additional A320neos.
The airline claimed it had secured a bigger discount on the $13bn list price than with its last major plane purchase, over a decade ago. But Sir Stelios hit back that the purchase was "another huge capital expenditure deal with the same supplier at secret prices."
The entrepreneur, who controls 37 per cent of easyJet, added: "Naturally it raises more questions than answers. The full shareholder circular must include the actual price to be paid for each aircraft."
The deal is still subject to a shareholder vote, where it must be approved by 50 per cent of investors, and sources confirmed Sir Stelios was expected to vote against the multi-billion pound plane order – and could even sell his stake – if he does not get "satisfactory" answers to his questions at the EGM, expected to take place next month.
But easyJet said that 85 of the new 135 aircraft will replace ageing jets, and claimed each more-efficient plane would lead to savings of 11 to 12 per cent per seat.
EasyJet's chief executive, Carolyn McCall, added: "Ultimately, Airbus offered us the best deal, and at a price with a greater discount to the list price than the landmark fleet purchase with easyJet in 2002."
Airbus said the transaction will sustain nearly 2,500 jobs in the UK, and another 7,500 in the supply chain.