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EasyJet readies 90% of fleet despite summer doubts

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By Laurence Frost and Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) -EasyJet said it was poised to ramp up summer flight schedules with an easing of COVID-19 restrictions, but the low-cost airline warned that late announcement of travel rules reduced visibility as it reported a wider half-year loss.

EasyJet expects to operate about 15% of pre-crisis capacity in the current April-June quarter, it said on Thursday, before returning furloughed crews for a much-anticipated summer surge.

“We have the ability to flex up quickly to operate 90% of our current fleet over the peak summer period to match demand,” Chief Executive Johan Lundgren said in the airline’s results statement.

As the peak season approaches, travel firms are pushing governments to drop quarantines and other curbs for vaccinated passengers and lower-risk destinations.

Britain’s “green list” of unrestricted countries is up for review in coming weeks, but the government has warned that the highly contagious coronavirus variant first detected in India may yet slow the pace of reopening.

EasyJet’s pretax loss widened to 701 million pounds ($990 million) in the six months ending March 31, from 193 million in the year-earlier period affected only partially by the pandemic. Revenue fell 90% to 240 million pounds on a similarly sharp decline in passenger numbers to 4.1 million.

Underlining the summer doubts, the airline gave no firm capacity plan for its July-September fourth quarter.

“Given the continued level of short-term uncertainty it would not be appropriate to provide any further financial guidance,” it said. The carrier said its cost-cutting programme was on track to save 500 million pounds this year.

EasyJet’s shares, which have risen 18% since the start of 2021, were down 1.5% at 1118 GMT.

Conditions are nonetheless ripe for a summer rebound. European Union states agreed on Wednesday to ease restrictions on vaccinated visitors, boosting recovery hopes.

Pending deployment of the EU’s digital health pass, Bernstein analyst Daniel Roeska said, the announcement was “an important step to opening up EU air travel and should support easyJet’s and other EU airlines’ share prices.”

EasyJet said it had added more than 105,000 seats – many to Portugal – within 24 hours of publication of the UK green list, which triggered a bookings spike.

“We know there is pent-up demand,” CEO Lundgren said.

($1 = 0.7087 pounds)

(Reporting by Laurence Frost in Paris and Paul Sandle in London; editing by Susan Fenton and Kirsten Donovan)

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