Who’s Who Legal spoke to Andrew Winterton, head of legal and compliance at easyJet, about his role within the company, recent projects the legal team has been working on and the airline’s interaction with the private practice sphere.
Name: Andrew Winterton
Position: Head of Legal and Compliance
Since its establishment in 1995, easyJet has enjoyed rapid expansion to the extent that it is is now the UK’s largest airline in terms of passengers carried and its operation of over 600 routes across 32 countries. The company’s impressive growth has been achieved by a series of deft acquisitions and seizing the opportunity to fill a market opening driven by consumer demand for low-cost air travel.
The airline continues to thrive, easyJet plc having recently achieved constituent status on the FTSE 100 Index, and has consolidated its standing as a major carrier across Europe with the announcement of new bases in Hamburg and Naples, which will open in spring 2014. The carrier operates a fleet of over 200 aircraft and employs over 8,000 people, including 2,000 pilots. In 2012 easyJet flew over 60 million passengers to 134 destinations, and with year-on-year increases in terms of turnover and EPS value, easyJet’s position as a “major player” in the European market is undoubted.
Liam Preston of Who’s Who Legal spoke to Andrew Winterton, head of legal and compliance, about his role within the company, recent projects the legal team has been working on and the airline’s interaction with the private practice sphere. Since joining easyJet in 2007, Winterton has played a pivotal part in enabling the company’s continued growth in recent years, from assisting in the establishment of new routes across Europe to overseeing improvements in the airline’s governance structures.
Tell us about your role at easyJet.
My role as head of legal and compliance is to manage the legal team along with the other senior lawyers (as I do not line-manage each team member); manage the legal budget and the panel firms; design, oversee and enforce easyJet’s compliance programme (eg, ABC, ethics, competition and human rights); oversee and run material litigation and regulator activity; advise on strategic corporate and special projects; advise on regulation, particularly consumer and aviation, and liaise with regulatory bodies on both current and future regulation.
Describe a typical day.
There is no typical day at easyJet. On average I am somewhere on the Continent once a week meeting local teams, lawyers and/or regulators or national enforcement bodies (NEBs). When in the office the day is filled with meetings, as easyJet very much has a face-to-face culture. Days can also be filled by calls or meetings with panel lawyers, obtaining advice or agreeing the next steps to take in relation to a given issue.
Currently it is year-end, so today we are ensuring purchase orders have been raised, all work in progress is billed, and adequate accruals and provisions are made.
We are also finalising the compliance and human rights sections of our annual report, and the quarterly litigation report that is due for circulation to the Airline Management Board (ExCo) very soon. Year-end also means preparing for appraisals for the year gone and agreeing the team plan, including team goals, objectives and KPIs. Identifying personal objectives and formulating development plans also take up time at this time of year. In addition to all this we are completing our formal complaints that we intend to take to NEBs over the illegal pricing practices of online travel agents which breach the Air Services Regulations and Consumer Rights Directive, among others.
How big is the legal and compliance department at easyJet?
The department is eight-and-a-half people strong: the group general counsel; a director of corporate governance; me, the head of legal and compliance; two senior lawyers; a corporate lawyer (we share with the company secretary – hence the half!); and three junior lawyers. We also have a trainee on secondment.
Tell us about any recent special projects your team has been working on. Which law firms did you hire?
We recently worked with Mark Franklin of DLA Piper on the Flybe Gatwick slot deal. Advising us on an easyJet fleet tender and deal was Norton Rose Fulbright, represented by Owen Mulholland and Chris Randall. In terms of our designation to fly to Moscow, as well as the Civil Aviation Authority scarce capacity hearing, this was done in-house alongside Akhil Shah QC. In Italy, we hired Dandria Studio Legale (Gennaro d’Andria) in relation to the Alitalia (CAI) abuse of dominance investigation by the Italian Competition Authority, as well as the release of Milan Linate slots.
What criteria do you use when deciding which firms/lawyers to instruct in relation to a legal issue?
Relevant experience and understanding; value; responsiveness; working style and relationship; and cost (though important rates and fee structures have already been dealt with as part of the panel process – hence its position on the list).
In the aviation industry, is the legal marketplace very competitive? Is there a lot of choice for clients such as yourself? How can firms distinguish themselves?
There is enough choice in most areas. Aviation regulatory lawyers are relatively few in number though – particularly those with a great depth and breadth of experience. Firms distinguish themselves by the depth of experience and value they can bring to a matter.
What is the greatest challenge – legal, practical or political – facing the aviation industry in the UK?
Poor regulation and legislation, be it poor or poorly conceived drafting – particularly from the EU. EC Regulation 261 is now the most referred piece of legislation in history. This shows no sign of abating and is a case in point.
The erosion of established conventions (Montreal being one such example) brings uncertainty to previously settled international law. Another major issue is the uneven enforcement of European legislation by NEBs, and particularly in relation to consumers in Europe.
What makes a good private practice lawyer?
A good understanding of your business and business objectives, relevant experience to the matter in question, the ability to communicate succinctly and being decisive (ie, not a fence-sitter). It is also important to be responsive, know when to charge and when not to, know when to say no – ie, when not to market the firm’s (or their own) “ability” in an area due to no direct experience of the matter in question.
What do you consider to be your most important role as head of legal and compliance at the company?
To be a trusted partner and adviser to the business.
Are there any recent regulatory changes or cases in the sector that have caught your attention?
There have been many! The European NEBs banding together to agree a non-exhaustive list of extraordinary circumstances for the EU 261 revision is a key development, and though not binding it is helpful for both airlines and consumers alike as it provides uniformity and certainty across the EU. Other noteworthy changes include: the moratorium on non-EU flights for ETS; the Consumer Rights Directive; the ADR Directive; the painfully slow Data Protection Regulation; and the State Aid Guidelines for Airports, to name a few.