JetBlue Airways may slow European ambitions as it pushes back Airbus A321 deliveries

Oct 28, 2020

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JetBlue Airways plans to land in London by the end of next year, maybe even at the city’s popular Heathrow airport.

But London has always just been a jumping off point for the New York-based carrier. JetBlue has painted a vision of possible flights to more than 20 European cities with the Airbus A321LR and A321XLR jets it has on order. Both planes are variants of the efficient A321neo that can fly the longer distances needed to hop the Atlantic Ocean.

The coronavirus pandemic may be putting those European aspirations on hold. In a report on JetBlue’s third quarter results Tuesday, Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth noted that a deferral of seven long-haul A321LR jets may signal a “slower ramp in its transatlantic ambitions.”

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A delay to JetBlue’s Europe plans comes as international travel continues to bear a heavy blow from COVID-19. International air travel traveller volumes on U.S. airlines were down 78% year-over-year during the week ending 20 October, according to the latest data from trade group Airlines for America (A4A). For comparison, domestic traveller numbers were down 68%.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts that global air travel will not recover to 2019 levels until around 2024. And airlines — especially those flying across borders — are likely to face a tough time until a system of widely recognised health checks is implemented and a vaccine is broadly available.

One on-going effort to reopen international air travel is the CommonPass app. Developed by The Commons Project Foundation with support from the World Economic Forum, the app collects a user’s COVID status and verifies his or her identity. It then presents that data — excluding any private health data — via a common platform to airlines and customs officials.

The Commons Project hopes to deploy the CommonPass app to all travellers in select markets early in the new year.

Related: United Airlines tests CommonPass app, potential travel bubble solution on London-Newark flight

Assembly of JetBlue’s first A321LR in Hamburg, Germany. (Image courtesy of JetBlue Airways)

JetBlue maintains plans to begin flights to London from both Boston (BOS) and New York JFK next year. Even with the latest A321LR delays, it will still take three jets — all decorated with its new “Streamers” tail — to begin flights in 2021. Another three will arrive in 2022.

“It’s shells,” JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said of the delivery schedule changes during a third quarter earnings call on Tuesday. “We have moved over 50% of our A321 orderbook out of 2020 to 2022 [and] into the future… I feel now we have the balance right.”

The A321LRs are also due to arrive with an updated cabin and new Mint premium product. Hayes and executives did not comment on these planned updates on Thursday.

Related: JetBlue says likelihood of London Heathrow flights has improved because of pandemic

JetBlue’s first A220-300. (Image courtesy of JetBlue Airways)

While JetBlue deferred A321LR deliveries, its Airbus A220 schedule remains unchanged. The airline is due to take its first A220-300 adorned with the new “Hops” tail design in December. Another seven are due next year and a further eight in 2022.

JetBlue plans to replace its 60 Embraer E190s with the 70 A220s it has on order. However, it has not updated its previous plans to remove the E-Jets by 2025 since the pandemic began.

On Thursday, the carrier reported a $393 million net loss during the three months ending in September. Its critical daily cash burn fell to an average of $6.1 million a day and executives anticipate it to drop to between $4 million to $6 million during the final three months of 2020.

JetBlue flew just 43% of what it flew a year ago in the third quarter, even with more than 60 new routes. It plans to fly roughly 55% of a year ago — including new winter flights to places like Montrose, Colorado (MTJ) and Palm Springs, California (PSP) — during the final quarter of 2020.

Featured image by FG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images.

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