Stelios calls truce in long-running battle with easyJet management

Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of easyJet, is preparing to call a truce in a long-running and bitter battle with the airline’s management and support the purchase of more than 50 new aircraft.

Haji-Ioannou, the low-cost airline’s biggest shareholder, is planning to vote in favour of a multibillion-dollar order with Airbus at a shareholder meeting on Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The vote of support for the Airbus deal would follow years of rancour, as Haji-Ioannou battled a string of chief executives and board members over the future of the company he founded in 1995.

Haji-Ioannou led a concerted effort to torpedo an original agreement for new planes with Airbus in 2013. He hit what he called “an all-time low” in 2020 when he threatened personally to sue the “scoundrels” running the airline.

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In the same year he also lost a bid to oust four directors of the company, including current chief executive Johan Lundgren, and offered a multimillion-pound reward for information that could lead to the cancellation of the airline’s contract with Airbus.

The aircraft order Haji-Ioannou is now preparing to back was signed in June and is part of the wider agreement that he once opposed so vigorously. It included 56 A320neo aircraft, as well as the conversion of an order of 18 A320neo to 18 A321neo aircraft, and required shareholder approval.

The deal has a value of $6.5bn at list prices but easyJet said it had secured a “substantial reduction” on that figure, without giving details.

The person familiar with Haji-Ioannou’s strategy said he believed now, nearly a decade after the Airbus order was first agreed, was the right time to order more aircraft to renew the fleet.

Haji-Ioannou and his family own about 15 per cent of the airline, down from around 25 per cent after they did not participate in a 2021 rights issue, giving the businessman less leverage over the company.

The repair to relations would still represent a milestone for Lundgren as chief executive and Stephen Hester as chair, who joined last year.

EasyJet’s board told shareholders ahead of the vote that the order would replace older aircraft that are expensive to run while helping easyJet maintain its scale at a time when Airbus delivery slots are becoming scarce.

The new aircraft are also up to 25 per cent more fuel-efficient, which in the long run would cut easyJet’s cost and help it reduce carbon emissions.

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