JetBlue picks up used jets as Airbus A321neo delays mount
JetBlue Airways has joined the ranks of carriers scrambling to make up for a shortfall in new jets as delivery delays of its new Airbus A321neos drag on into 2020.
The New York-based carrier has signed a deal to lease four used A321s -- something it has rarely done in its 20-year history -- as it tries to mitigate a shortfall of new planes this year, JetBlue finance chief Steve Priest said during an earnings call on Thursday.
JetBlue anticipates deliveries of 11 A321neos -- it is contracted to take 14 of the planes -- and the first one of 60 new Airbus A220s in 2020.
“We have confidence in the [delivery] guide, that can obviously evolve as things go forward," Priest said, suggesting that further A321neo delays -- as JetBlue experienced in 2019 -- are possible.
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JetBlue has company with its A321neo delays. American Airlines has also been forced to push back arrivals of the jet, while also contending with Boeing 737 MAX deliveries that remain halted until the aircraft is re-certified -- currently expected by mid-2020. Alaska Airlines, American, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines are all due to take MAX deliveries this year.
The Airbus delays are forcing JetBlue to make other trade offs. One is adding the used A321s to its 2020 fleet plan, and another is metering its roll-out of A320s with restyled cabins.
JetBlue has restyled 53 A320s with the new cabin to date, president Joanna Geraghty said on the call Thursday. However, the A321neo delivery delays has forced it slow the program and push back the expected completion of the effort to early 2021 from late 2020.
Related: Odds of getting JetBlue’s updated A320s are ever more in your favor
The carrier's restyled A320 cabins feature a refreshed look like on the its A321s -- though no pantry as on the A321neos -- including personal entertainment screens at every seat and power outlets in every row. The reconfigured jets also have 12 additional seats with room for 162 passengers.
JetBlue has also slowed growth from Wall Street analysts' expectations due to the delays. The airline will grow capacity by 5.5-7.5% year-over-year in 2020, about two points lower than analysts' forecasts and slower than usual for JetBlue according to Geraghty. The focus remains growing in the carrier's core focus cities at Boston Logan (BOS) and Fort Lauderdale, at the cost of underperforming markets like Oakland (OAK).
"We plan to continue to take targeted network actions," said Geraghty. She added that every city and route has to "earn its way into our network."
JetBlue has also trimmed capacity to Puerto Rico, where it maintains a focus city in San Juan (SJU), following a drop in demand after several earthquakes hit the island earlier in January. Geraghty called the reductions "temporary."
Related: JetBlue drops Oakland, shrinks Long Beach amid broader route shakeup