EasyJet to trial plane with fuel cells to help cut costs

VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - British low-cost airline easyJet said it would trial a new fuel cell system on planes that could cut its fuel bill by up to $35 million a year, as part of its battle to keep fares low and compete against Ryanair.

Aircraft of British carrier easyJet parked on the apron at Larnaca airport, Cyprus November 7, 2015. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

easyJet said on Tuesday that, if trials of an Airbus fitted with a hydrogen cell in its hold were successful, its planes would be able to taxi to runways without using jet engines, saving an estimated $25 million-$35 million a year on fuel.

The airline is already benefiting from a plunge in the oil price over the last 18 months, but it could cut its bill further with this new technology, Head of Engineering Ian Davies said at an event in Venice.

About 4 percent of the airline’s total annual fuel consumption is used in taxi-ing at airports, Davies said.

easyJet has a fleet of more than 200 Airbus A319s and A320s.

easyJet and Ryanair have been locked in a battle for supremacy in the low-cost market for years, with the Irish airline recently upping the stakes by moving to more primary airports and improving its customer service.

The new technology, which involves a fuel cell capturing energy from the aircraft’s brakes when it lands, would also help reduce the airline’s carbon dioxide emissions.

That could help easyJet if new guidelines emerge later this year when the wider aviation industry will probably agree on a deal to limit its carbon dioxide emissions.

easyJet said on Tuesday it would begin ground-based trials of the so-called hybrid plane later this year.

The airline has a long-term strategy to ensure its ticket prices are competitive and to increase its profitability.

Its past cost-saving plans have included flying drones around lightning-hit aircraft to make it quicker to check them for damage, and sourcing cheaper de-icing supplies from Alaska.

easyJet said in January that for the full-year ended Sept. 30, 2016, it expected cost per seat excluding fuel on a constant currency basis to be between flat and 1 percent higher than last year. Ryanair sees unit costs excluding fuel down 2 percent in the 12 months ended Mar. 31.

Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by Adrian Croft