EasyJet has branded founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou’s efforts to oust several key figures at the airline over a multi-billion pound aircraft order an "unnecessary distraction" at a time of "unprecedented challenge" for the airline sector owing to the coronavirus crisis.
Sir Stelios, whose family remains easyJet’s largest shareholder with around a 34% stake in the business, is calling for the carrier’s £4.5 billion order with Airbus for a further 107 aircraft to be cancelled to preserve cash.
Earlier this month, Sir Stelios sought a general meeting of the board, which has been convened for 22 May.
Ahead of the meeting, shareholders will vote on Sir Stelios’s proposals to remove easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren; chairman John Barton; chief financial officer Andrew Findlay and independent non-executive director Andreas Bierworth.
However, the easyJet board has unanimously recommended shareholders vote against Sir Stelios’s resolutions.
"The board of easyJet firmly believes that holding a general meeting is an unnecessary distraction at a time when the airline industry is facing unprecedented challenge," said Barton in a statement issued on Monday (27 April).
"The resolutions to remove the directors are an attempt to force easyJet to terminate its Airbus contract. This is not in the best interests of the company or its shareholders as a whole."
Barton added easyJet had already taken "decisive and urgent action" to boost the carrier’s liquidity to guard against a prolonged grounding, understood to be in excess of £3 billion, which easyJet believes is sufficient to withstand at least a nine-month grounding.
The airline has, however, pledged to "continue to consider further liquidity and funding options".
"The board remains focused on successfully guiding easyJet through this continued period of uncertainty," said Barton.
"Removing four directors from the board including the chairman, CEO and CFO, would be extremely damaging and destabilising at this critical time. We unanimously urge all shareholders to vote against all the resolutions."
EasyJet inked the deal with Airbus in 2013, which now amounts to an order for some 107 aircraft. Sir Stelios believes easyJet is unable to afford the order, adding in a statement: "Cancelling the Airbus contract is the only chance we have to save easyJet."