Fight for Go airline depends on loyalty to Cassani

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The Independent Online

Easyjet, the aggressive and colourful low-cost airline founded by Stelios Haji-Ioannou, is confident that senior management at rival Go will back its £400m bid – a point which has emerged as a key condition of the deal.

Executives at easyJet declared yesterday that they were not after Barbara Cassani, Go's chief executive who was raised in the US, but the acquisition was dependent on her senior management team remaining in place.

Ms Cassani is opposed to the transaction, despite the fact that she stands to make some £16m from the deal. She said she was never offered a job at the enlarged airline – contrary to the statements of Stelios and his chief executive, Ray Webster. Ms Cassani claims she has the supp- ort of her managers. Easyjet disputes this.

A spokesman for easyJet said: "We don't need Barbara and she has ruled herself out anyway. But we do need the support of the management of Go, who will be needed as we integrate the two companies."

Ms Cassani, who led the management buyout of Go from British Airways a year ago, backed by venture capitalists 3i, claims that her management is "100 per cent" behind her opposition to the transaction.

But 3i and easyJet are confident of the support of Go management and easyJet said it is "very close" to signing a deal. Go's senior management are highly incentivised to take the easyJet offer as about 20 of them account for the bulk of an 18.5 per cent staff equity holding in the company. Ms Cassani separately holds 4 per cent.

It is believed that easyJet is putting together an additional incentive package for Go management.

EasyJet is simultaneously pursuing an acquisition of British Airways' loss-making German domestic airline, Deutsche BA. Yesterday, reports surfaced that, should it proceed with this deal, it would fire 35 per cent of the German operation's staff. And Lufthansa, Germany's flagship airline, said it was unfazed by the prospect of easyJet's entry into its home market.

Lufthansa's chairman, Jür-gen Weber, said: "According to our estimates, the acquisition of the German BA by easyJet does not create a more difficult competitive environment.

"The tasks ahead for easyJet are enormous: the integration of three companies – Go, German BA and easyJet – into one firm has to be accomplished first."

Together with Deutsche BA the two acquisitions would more than double the size of easyJet's aircraft fleet and make it by far Europe's biggest low-cost carrier, overtaking market leader Ryanair in terms of passenger traffic.

But Mr Weber said he saw no way easyJet would manage to turn loss-making German BA around and emphasised that budget airlines catered to a different customer base from Lufthansa. He said his airline did not plan to introduce a low-cost carrier of its own.

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