NEW YORK – Yesterday, Airways was given an exclusive tour of the brand new jetBlue (B6) Airbus A220-300 (N3008J) at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). In true COVID-19 fashion, the tour was held with social distancing and mask-wearing strongly in mind.
The aircraft, named ‘Hops’, took off on its maiden flight in early December of 2020, flying around the Airbus factory in Mobile, Alabama before being delivered to B6. On New Year’s Eve, the New York-based carrier took delivery of its first of 70 Airbus A220-300s on order to replace its aging Embraer E190 fleet.
Along with the brand new aircraft, B6 featured a new tail design on the Airbus A220. The ‘Hops’ tail livery is the newest iteration of the ever-evolving tail designs of the airline’s aircraft. The new design extends to the wingtips, creating a stunning livery.
Powered by Pratt & Whitney GTF engines, the Airbus A220 will help B6 in achieving its goal of carbon neutrality by 2040 while significantly decreasing operating costs. The advanced engines will also reduce noise footprint.
As only the third airline in North America, and second in the USA—after Delta Air Lines and Air Canada—to take delivery of an Airbus A220, the new aircraft presents an array of exciting new possibilities for B6. Passengers can expect to enjoy new features, wider seats, extra-large overhead bins, and wide windows. With 140 seats (25 ‘even more space’ seats and 115 economy seats), the aircraft hits the sweet spot for secondary city routes.
JetBlue also announced today that the brand new Airbus A220 will begin flying the Boston to Fort Lauderdale route in early June of this year.
The new aircraft’s bright prospects are a dramatic contrast to the dire conditions the aviation industry continues to fight through. I look forward to seeing what kinds of doors the aircraft will open for the airline, and how this new airliner will provide a framework for how B6 will grow and evolve over the coming years.
WHY THE AIRBUS A220?
jetBlue placed a surprising order for 60 Airbus A220-300 aircraft on July 10, 2018, later expanding its order to 70. Although the aircraft will replace and presumably operate similar routes as those of the Embraer E190 aircraft, the A220s add an important element to B6’s fleet, opening new possibilities for route network expansion.
The new aircraft are an opportunity for B6 to re-assess additions to its route network that were previously impossible due to the Embraer E190s significantly deficient economics.
At the time of ordering the Airbus A220s, the airline’s press release stated, “While the E190 has played an important role in JetBlue’s network since 2005, the airline’s fleet review determined that the A220’s economics would allow the airline to lower costs in the coming years.”
It continued, “The A220 was designed by previous manufacturer Bombardier to seat between 130 and 160 customers, enabling financial and network advantages over the current 100-seat Embraer configuration.”
While the natural successors to the Embraer E190s might have been Embraer’s next-generation aircraft offering of the E190-E2, a number of factors might have caused the airline to stick with Airbus.
The E190-E2 can only seat a maximum of 114 passengers, a significant deterrent when compared to the Airbus A220. The E190-E2 also has a shorter range, making it less sufficient for longer transatlantic flights.
THE AIRBUS A220’S DRAMATIC RISE TO THE TOP
The Airbus A220s journey to becoming one of the best in its class is testament to the cutthroat nature of the aircraft manufacturing industry. Originally designed by Bombardier Aerospace in Canada, the aircraft’s development began in 2007 to compete with smaller regional and mid-range aircraft through its long range.
In 2008, in a remarkable beginning to the Farnborough Air Show, Bombardier officially launched the program, also announcing a letter of intent from Lufthansa for 60 of the aircraft with 30 options. The aircraft would be assembled in Mirabel, Canada.
At the time, Lufthansa (LH) Senior Vice President, Nico Buchholz said, “Our initial evaluations of the CSeries family of aircraft and discussions with Bombardier over the last few months have evolved and made us believe that the CSeries family of aircraft clearly meets our stringent requirements for sustainable fleet development, both in terms of environmental and commercial requirements, and flexibility for the future. We are proud to be a part of its launch.”
The CS100 received certification from Transport Canada in 2015, followed by certification by the United States Federal Aviation Authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency in 2016.
Although the aircraft’s development and marketing was looking upward at the time, difficulty struck Bombardier as production delays and increasingly severe competition from Boeing and Airbus left the program struggling.
Airlines preferred the Airbus and Boeing alternatives, citing the lower costs of not having to retrain Pilots on a new aircraft type and the steady stream of aircraft being produced and delivered by Airbus and Boeing.
While the Bombardier CS program was on life support, Air Canada (AC) gave the aircraft production company a huge boost with an order for 45 of the CS300 with an option for 30 additional aircraft in February of 2016.
Crisis came to Bombardier later in 2016 when Boeing made a deal with United Airlines (UA) for 65 Boeing 737-700s, a direct competitor to the CSeries at the time. The aircraft were sold at a discount of 70-75% of their list price. The deal made by Boeing stopped the potential tread by Bombardier over one of Boeing’s key customers.
The program was further boosted by unconfirmed reports at the time of a sale of aircraft to Delta Air Lines (DL). On April 28, 2016, DL and Bombardier announced the deal for a whopping 75 CS100s with an option for 50 additional aircraft.
At the time of the announcement, Delta’s CEO, Ed Bastian said, “These new aircraft are a solid investment, allowing us to take advantage of superior operating economics, network flexibility, and best-in-class fuel performance.”
The aircraft were purchased by DL at a discount of 65% to 70% of the list price. The sale brought Bombardier back into the mix of competition for aircraft production, giving it a much needed boost.
During the development of the CS100 and CS300, Airbus became keenly aware of its competition to the Airbus A320 family, taking note of the letter of intent by LH, an order for 40 CS300s by Republic Airways Holdings (YX) in 2016, followed by further orders in late 2016.
Delivery delays as well as the extremely competitive market forced Bombardier to consider a partnership with Airbus. In October of 2017, Airbus’ 50.1% acquisition of the CSeries Program was announced. Airbus did not have to assume any debt or pay into the program, but instead brought value in extensive supply chain infrastructure and marketing abilities.
The CSeries aircraft were promptly renamed the Airbus A220-100 and Airbus A220-300 in July of 2018. Hours after the name was changed, B6 surprised the aviation industry with an order for 60 of the type.
Notably, David Neeleman, the founder of jetBlue, has chosen the Airbus A220-300 as part Breeze’s fleet, his new venture. The airline, set to launch point-to-point service within the United States this year, ordered 60 Airbus A220-300s, set to be delivered beginning in 2022. Five of the aircraft were sold through a partnership with Voyager Aviation Holdings.
At the time of placing the order with Voyager, David Neeleman said, “We’re pleased to partner with Voyager as we put together our fleet of brand new Airbus A220 aircraft for next year. Together, we’ll offer US travelers a new choice in air travel, and a much-improved travel experience.”
THE AIRBUS A220’S TRANSATLANTIC PROSPECTS
As jetBlue prepares to begin transatlantic flights between the East Coast of the United States and Europe, operating the Airbus A220-300s to Europe may become a distinct possibility.
We may see the airline inaugurate transatlantic flights as narrow body flights from Europe to the East Coast of the United States becomes a new trend. Specifically, TAP Portugal (TP) operates flights from Lisbon to Newark Liberty Airport and Boston Logan Airport using Airbus A321neo aircraft.
In addition, Aer Lingus (EI) flies from Dublin to Boston Logan Airport (BOS) using Airbus A321neos, and La Compagnie (B0) operates Airbus A321neo aircraft from Paris Orly (ORY) to Newark Liberty Airport (EWR) in an all business class cabin.
In fact, as reported in November of 2020, B6 has already filed to begin flights to London Stansted (STN) and Gatwick Airports (LGW) and was assigned slots for twice-daily service at both airports. Additional filings specify requests for twice-daily service.
As of now, B6 states that it will operate Airbus A321LR to London from New York City and Boston. Operating the lower capacity Airbus A220-300s to Europe would allow the airline to venture deeper into that region, setting up a true challenge against full service carriers that dominate transatlantic routes.
The question remains, however, of how B6 will market these transatlantic flights, and whether the airline will look for partners to guarantee filling up its planes.
In most of its biggest US bases—namely JFK and Fort Lauderdale (FLL)—the carrier has clinched important code-share agreements with airlines such as TP and Emirates (EK), both of which have provided important passenger feeds to B6’s ever-growing network.
If not transatlantic flights, we can expect B6 to operate the Airbus A220-300 on high frequency routes within the United States.
CONTINUING FLEET RENEWAL
As such, delivery of the brand new aircraft marks a step of progress for the airline, acquiring next-generation aircraft to replace elements of its aging fleet. In addition to the Airbus A220s, B6 has recently taken delivery of and has on order Airbus A321neo aircraft. In fact, the airline only took delivery of its first Airbus A321neo (named David Neeleman) in June of 2019.
At the time, the carrier converted 13 Airbus A321neo orders to XLR versions of the aircraft as it prepared to launch transatlantic flights. The airline has a total of 85 Airbus A321neos on order.
Congratulations to B6 and Airbus, and thank you for inviting us aboard!
WELCOME ONBOARD JETBLUE’S FIRST A220
Entering a brand new plane for the first time is a unique experience. The new cabin fitting always emanates that ‘new car smell’ that inevitably puts a smile on anyone’s face.
JetBlue’s newest plane is certainly one that will make people smile. Upon entering the jet, the airline’s conservative yet standard color palette is visible. The seating layout, standard to the Airbus A220, is that of a 2-3 configuration.
Sadly, and most impressively, B6 has chosen not to fit this plane with its award-winning Mint class. Experts had predicted that due to the airline’s imminent transatlantic, long-haul venture on flights from Boston and New York to London, the airline would have aimed at featuring an all-new Mint class onboard its A220s to tackle the ever-growing (at least in a nonpandemic era) corporate travel industry.
Mariya Stoyanova, the Head of Product Development at B6, remarked that anything they put in the aircraft would be enhanced by the airframe’s design.
The 140 seats, including six rows of Even More Space, allow flexibility for the airline in choosing routes. The airline has chosen the aircraft to initially fly between its focus cities and its high-density routes, such as its always coveted Fort Lauderdale to Boston route.
JetBlue boasts the seat’s enhanced cushioning and adjustable headrests with vegan leather throughout—an interesting and elegant choice.
Also, the A220’s larger overhead bins allow for maximum seat comfort with most passengers able to store all their personal belongings instead of placing them under the seat.
The seats also have a contoured seat back design to provide maximum comfort and legroom for the customers. Each row also has an abundant amount of power outlets, each fitted with AC, USB-A, and notably USB-C ports.
Keeping up with the airline’s wide selection of in-flight entertainment options, its Airbus A220s will feature Viasat connectivity, allowing customers to enjoy content from gate to gate. Fly-Fi will be available throughout most of B6’s fleet.
Each seat will also feature a 10.1 inch, 1080P high definition screen with hundreds of options available to every passenger.
The aircraft also features the large elegant Airbus cockpit, which had been configured to JFK settings. The aircraft had also been going under maintenance in preparation for entry of service.
JetBlue will begin testing the A220 on its most popular domestic routes before it ventures overseas on its flights to London. After asking B6 for comment on the potential in-flight service the airline pretends to offer to its customers on these long-haul flights, the airline neglected to comment.
It is evident, however, that B6 is likely to offer a low-cost/long-haul service other than offering a premium, corporate-oriented product now that its Mint class has not been installed on these planes.
However, from the domestic passenger’s perspective, this plane represents a tremendous offering over the carrier’s current product.
Feature image: Kochan Kleps/Airways