Passenger numbers fly 12% higher at easyJet

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The Independent Online

The low-cost carrier easyJet yesterday stole a march on rival Ryanair as it unveiled a 12 per cent rise in passenger numbers in January while saying it remained "cautiously optimistic" about performance this year.

In January, the airline carried 1.68 million passengers - a 12.3 per cent rise on the 1.5 million it carried in the same month of the previous year.

Ray Webster, the chief executive, said: "This month's performance is pleasing, with the results demonstrating that easyJet was able to fill its aircraft at the same level as last year, achieving a high and stable load factor."

The carrier's load factor - or the number of passengers as a proportion of the number of seats available - was flat at 77 per cent in January. Mr Webster said: "Due to our decision to adopt a prudent growth strategy - expected to be 20 per cent capacity growth in the current financial year - and the strength of our city route network, easyJet continues to trade in line with our expectations."

He added that the company had no reason to change the outlook it gave to shareholders in its annual report. "As then, we continue to be 'cautiously optimistic' about our performance in the current year," he said.

Analysts at Smith Barney described the numbers as "generally in-line" although they noted they were much better than figures reported by Ryanair earlier in the week. "The most important point is that load factor has been maintained at 77 per cent whereas Ryanair's fell by five points to 71 per cent," they said, adding: "We are relieved that easyJet is maintaining its 'cautiously optimistic' outlook statement because Ryanair's profits warning last week certainly raised the risk profile of the no-frills segment."

Ryanair warned that savage cuts in air fares would result in its first fall in profits in 15 years. Ryanair had been forecasting a 10 per cent rise in profits for the year to the end of March but warned it expected profits to fall 10 per cent instead.

Compounding that crisis was this week's ruling forcing Ryanair to repay some of the millions of euros subsidy it received from Belgium's public-owned Charleroi airport. Mr Webster saideasyJet welcomed that decision and that the no-frills carrier saw it as "supportive" of the low-cost airline industry.

Meanwhile, Wallonia's economics minister Serge Kubla said that two other low-cost airlines, one Polish and one Italian, would be joining Ryanair at Charleroi. Air Polonia would fly three times a week between Charleroi and the southern Polish city of Katowice and twice a week to the capital of Warsaw. French airline Axis Airways is to fly between Charleroi and the Italian city of Pescara three times a week. The Anglo-Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air might also start flights between Charleroi and Budapest.