Stelios Haji-Ioannou’s feud with the airline he founded, easyJet, has reached its nadir – with the entrepreneur looking to set up a rival airline and accusing easyJet management of running a smear campaign against him.
Haji-Ioannou had agreed in October not to set up a competitor to easyJet as part of a deal which avoided court action and saw the low-cost airline increase the annual royalty it paid to Haji-Ioannou’s easyGroup.
Both parties also agreed to a contract clause which committed them to enhancing the reputation of the easyJet brand.
But Haji-Ioannou now believes this clause has been invalidated. A statement read: “Sir Stelios strongly believes that the directors of easyJet, via a smear campaign conducted by off-the-record briefings to journalists, have repeatedly breached the clause, so he has terminated the effect of the letter for repudiatory breach and has rejected all payments offered under this letter since May 2011.”
EasyJet’s response was to release details of the rival airline it says Haji-Ioannou is about to set up, in breach of their agreement. It said it had received notice that Sir Stelios “intends to set up an airline branded Fastjet and that a website, www.fastjet.com, has already been established”. EasyJet vowed to take “necessary action” to protect its rights and “the interests of its shareholders”, while rejecting Haji-Ioannou’s claims and stating that it was still seeking “constructive dialogue” with its founder.
Haji-Ioannou refused to give more details of the Fastjet launch, but confirmed that he would no longer be abiding by the terms of last October's agreement. The fastjet.com website currently contains a simple “coming soon” message – but the site visitor will also note the strong red colour providing the background, hinting at the airline’s branding. The question must surely be: is red a better colour than orange?
The war of words between Sir Stelios and easyJet will continue, but Fastjet might not be all it appears. Even if Sir Stelios has a new venture up his sleeve, it may not turn out to be a direct competitor to easyJet – where he still owns shares, after all. Besides, is there really room for another low-cost carrier that takes you to an airport that is a long bus ride from your destination and has, at best, an indifferent approach to customer service?
Jason Holland, Editor, Aircraft Technology Engineering & Maintenance