JetBlue’s first Airbus A220 will be delivered in the second half of 2020. Despite the current crisis facing the industry, the low-cost legend remains positive about its new acquisition. We take a look at what we can expect from the JetBlue A220, and where it’s likely to fly.
JetBlue’s first A220 edges a step closer
With the opening of Airbus’ new A220 assembly plant in Mobile, Alabama, comes a step forward in the timeline to JetBlue’s first A220 delivery. The low-cost carrier will become the second airline to take delivery of a US-built A220, after Delta receives its own in the third quarter of 2020.
The JetBlue A220 order was made back in the summer of 2018. The airline ordered 60 of the larger A220-300s with options for a further 60. While it retains the ability to downsize to the -100 variant, as yet, the carrier has remained committed to the largest of the type.
Earlier this year, JetBlue firmed up a deal with Viasat for full inflight connectivity across the entire incoming A220 fleet. It’s also picked Thales AVANT IFE, remaining firm on its commitment to offer seatback screens across its entire fleet. But the question remains, where will they fly?
Where will JetBlue fly the A220?
While JetBlue has an extensive network, most of which could be adequately served by the A220, its order of the type had a specific goal in mind – to replace its fleet of Embraer jets. JetBlue operates 60 ERJ-190s on many short- and medium-haul routes, but the larger A220-300s won’t just operate on these. In fact, the airline plans to use them for transcontinental routes too.
In a statement following their initial order of the type, the airline said,
JetBlue plans to phase in the A220-300 as a replacement for JetBlue’s existing fleet of 60 Embraer E190 aircraft. The aircraft’s range and seating capacity will add flexibility to JetBlue’s network strategy as it targets growth in its focus cities, including options to schedule it for transcontinental flying. The aircraft also opens the door to new markets and routes that would have been unprofitable with JetBlue’s existing fleet.
Previously, COO Joanna Geraghty hinted that the A220s would begin life in the airline’s Boston hub. This was reinforced by Andrea Lusso, director of route planning at JetBlue, who told Routesonline last year,
Our A220s will naturally have a heavy presence in Boston as it’s one of our biggest E190 footprints today. But the aircraft can do a lot more than the E190 can, which is part of the reasons why we ordered it. We will be able to fly longer stages with a higher utilisation. So you can expect to see us go further within the continent and touch more places.”
This strongly suggests that the A220 will be used not only to replace E190 routes but also to expand across the Americas. With its launch of Guadeloupe service from JFK last year, and a new interlining agreement with Mexico’s Interjet, the airline has its sights firmly set on expansion. The A220 will undoubtedly provide the fuel for that fire.
How will the crisis affect these plans?
Although the situation facing airlines right now may have changed JetBlue’s original plans for the A220, CEO Robin Hayes sees the acquisition of the jet as a positive. At the recent earnings call, he said,
“When we think about demand and what’s going to come back, we’re running scenarios for different segments, different geographies … where we think that we know it’s going to take some time to come back and where we have markets that have … multiple frequencies a day. Those markets may be actually better served with a less frequency for a period of time, and an airplane like A220 could be really helpful for that in actually helping us serve it more profitably.”
This suggests that some high-frequency routes, even those currently using the larger A320 family aircraft, could see an early deployment of the A220. Boston to Washington is one that comes to mind, with the A220 providing higher efficiency and lower capacity than the A320, something that will be beneficial as demand slowly recovers.
We’ve already seen just how valuable the A220 has been as an aircraft type during the pandemic. Even in the worst weeks for capacity loss, almost half the A220 fleet has remained flying worldwide. This smaller, more efficient aircraft could well prove to be instrumental in leading airlines like JetBlue out of the crisis.
Despite all the challenges, JetBlue remains focused on the future. The airline confirmed to Simple Flying last week that it still aimed to begin service to London in 2021, and had previously said at its results presentation that it would not be deferring deliveries of the A220 either. Chief Financial Officer Steve Priest said he believed it was essential to stay positive, saying,
“We don’t want to be turned deaf, we’re going through this crisis. When we come out of the other side of this, we continue to be excited about the A220s and the benefits that can bring to JetBlue.”
Are you excited to see the A220 enter service with JetBlue too? Let us know in the comments.