JetBlue Airways is taking an aggressive approach to its fleet modernization efforts with an incremental order for 30 Airbus A220s. The deal would also make JetBlue the largest global operator of the A220.
The New York-based carrier exercised options for the aircraft that boost its total commitments to 100 A220-300s, JetBlue said Tuesday. The additional jets will allow it to retire its last Embraer E190s in 2026.
“We’re in a position to accelerate our fleet modernization plans to deliver stronger cost performance and support our focus city network strategy,” JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said.
What Hayes did not say is how JetBlue’s Northeast Alliance with American Airlines is fueling growth. The partnership, which was challenged last year by the U.S. Department of Justice, has allowed JetBlue to increase departures by double digits at key Boston and New York City-area airports where slot and gate limits constrained its growth. In addition, it delayed the retirement of 30 owned E190s to, as JetBlue President Joanna Geraghty put it in January, “provide support for the ramp-up of the” Northeast Alliance.
The airline plans to fly 11-15 percent more capacity in 2022 than in 2019, with much of that driven by the alliance in the northeast.
The A220, owing to its small size and low operating costs, proved one of the more popular jets during the Covid-19 pandemic. Global operators continued to fly many, if not all, of the aircraft even as they parked many of their larger jets amid the slump in air travel. Cirium Head of Valuations George Dimitroff told Skift last year that the aircraft retained more of its market value compared to other models through 2020 due to “a combination of its right size for thinner traffic flows, lower fuel burn, and trip costs.”
In January, JetBlue Chief Financial Officer Ursula Hurley said replacing E190s with A220s provided a “tailwind” in terms of reducing unit costs excluding fuel. The carrier anticipates 1-5 percent CASM-ex fuel growth in 2022 compared with 2019, and aims to keep the metric “flattish” thereafter.
JetBlue took delivery of its first A220-300 in December 2020, and introduced the aircraft on flights between Boston and Tampa in April 2021, according to Cirium schedules. The carrier ended 2021 with eight A220s in its fleet. It outfits the aircraft with 140 seats.
The incremental order bumps up JetBlue’s delivery stream annually through 2026. This year, the carrier will take 10 A220s — one more than previously scheduled — an updated fleet plan shows. JetBlue will take another 21 A220s in 2023; 27 in 2024; 20 in 2025; and 14 in 2026.
JetBlue will retire at least 10 aircraft, including E190s as well as older Airbus A320s, in 2023, said Hurley in January.
“This is going to be a common theme as we navigate 2023 and beyond,” she said in terms of replacing older aircraft with newer models. JetBlue has A220s and Airbus A321neos, including both the LR and XLR models, on order.