JetBlue accelerates Airbus A220 deliveries, Boston-Washington a possible early route

May 7, 2020

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JetBlue Airways is accelerating deliveries of the popular Airbus A220 even as it trims the number of new jets arriving over the next two years amid an uncertain outlook following the coronavirus pandemic.

The New York-based carrier will take its first of 70 A220-300s later this year as planned, betting on the jet’s economics to help its bottom line through the crisis, JetBlue chief financial officer Steve Priest said during an earnings call on Thursday. Another seven A220s will arrive next year — one more than previously planned — and eight in 2022.

“The economics of this aircraft are spectacular and I’m pleased to have them in the orderbook,” he told analysts when asked whether keeping the deliveries made sense.

Priest added that the “business case” for the jet — which is expected to seat about 130 passengers in a 2-3 layout for JetBlue — remained despite the crisis. JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes chimed in that the A220 could even benefit routes like the shuttle between Boston Logan (BOS) and Washington Reagan National (DCA).

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A rendering of a JetBlue A220-300. (Image courtesy of Airbus)
A rendering of a JetBlue A220-300. (Image courtesy of Airbus)

 

JetBlue is in survival mode as the COVID-19 crisis hits the industry hard. The airline has parked some 170 of its 262 planes — two-thirds of its fleet — cut capacity by 80% in the second quarter, and some 11,000 staff have taken voluntary unpaid leave.

Despite these efforts, JetBlue lost $268 million during the three months ending in March. Demand for air travel fell off a cliff at the end of February when COVID-19 began spreading across the U.S.

Americans, by and large, are staying put. Many states and cities remain under shelter-at-home or safer-at-home orders as officials work to flatten the curve and boost testing capacity ahead of further re-openings. Even then, it’s not clear how quickly people will return to the sky.

A recent survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) found that at least 40% of would-be travelers will wait at least six months after restrictions are eased before flying again.

Related: JetBlue, Spirit Airlines say leisure flyers beginning to return — slowly

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
JetBlue debuted its first A321neo on flights last September. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

 

With so many unknowns, JetBlue has adjusted its fleet plans. It paused a multi-year effort to reconfigure, or “restyle,” the cabins on is Airbus A320s with new seats, inflight entertainment and other interior upgrades. The airline is also awaiting more clarity on the recovery before making a decision on how many of its 170 parked jets will return to service.

The carrier has slashed its new Airbus A321neo deliveries by 22 aircraft through 2022. Under the revised schedule, JetBlue will take four more jets this year, five A321neos and five of the longer-range A321LRs next year, and seven A321LRs in 2022.

The A321LRs are needed for JetBlue to launch its long-planned service to London. Due to begin in 2021, Hayes said Thursday that the plans will be “shifted back a bit in terms of timing” due to the crisis.

Related: JetBlue is pressing ahead with plans to fly to London

JetBlue is already laying out possible service plans for the A220s. First ordered in 2018, the planes will seat around 130-passengers in a 2-3 economy class layout. They will replace the carrier’s 60 100-seat Embraer E190s over the next few years, though that timeline could also be accelerated following the coronavirus.

“Markets like a Boston-DCA where we have multiple frequencies a day, those markets might be better served with less frequency for a period of time,” said Hayes. “An airplane like a A220 could be really helpful for that in actually helping us serve it more positively.”

Prior to the crisis, JetBlue offered up to 14 flights a day between Boston and Washington National, almost exclusively on E190s, according to Cirium schedules.

The Boston-Washington route has been one of the carrier’s “best markets,” as JetBlue director of route planning Andrea Lusso described it to TPG last year.

Related: Airlines flew empty flights to get coronavirus aid; now they’re asking Congress for help

Featured image by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images.

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