BOSTON – Any day in which an airline introduces a new aircraft to its fleet is a motive for celebration, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, which has impacted the airline business due to travel restrictions and the subsequent drop in the travel demand worldwide.
The financial hit of the ongoing crisis has been massive. In numbers from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airlines reported a net industry loss of US$126.4bn in 2020 and the Association predicts that losses for 2021 will be a whopping US$47.7bn.
However, if an airline is known for turning existing crises into opportunities, it is JetBlue (B6). The New-York based carrier started operations in February 2000, and it has become a disruptor in the US air travel industry with a low-cost business model, a strong branding identity, and a fleet built around the Airbus A320 family aircraft and the Embraer E190.
Notably, JetBlue was the only US airline to report a profit in the months that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks and expanded its footprint in several markets that were strongholds of legacy carriers. However, as predicted in March 2020 by Robin Hayes, CEO of the airline, the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has been worse than 9/11, and the airline reported losses of US$1.24bn in 2020.
The times they are-a changing, and as the market readies its recovery back to profitability, B6 bets its short-to-medium haul fleet on the Airbus A220, an aircraft whose story somewhat resembles B6’s origins: Nobody but a few expected that it would become a resounding success.
Airways has joined JetBlue in the introduction of the Airbus A220-300 in its fleet. Flight B61391 is scheduled to depart Boston at 16:23 local time, arriving in Tampa (TPA) just before 20:00 on Monday, April 26, 2021.
The first flight of JetBlue’s Airbus A220-300 also coincides with the 49th anniversary of the introduction into service of the Lockheed L1011 Tristar, with Eastern Air Lines (EA) as launch operator serving a flight from Miami (MIA) to New York (JFK).
Style, Substance, and Economics
The Airbus A220-300 seems to be a perfect match for JetBlue’s disruptive business model. As commented by Jayne O’Brien, JetBlue’s head of marketing and loyalty, “With the [Airbus] A220 we’ve taken a state-of-the-art aircraft and added our award-winning touch to bring to life an experience only JetBlue could dream up.”
JetBlue has chosen a cabin configuration for 140 passengers in Economy and Even More Space cabin products. The airline has also selected the Collins Aerospace Meridian seats, which together with the Thales AVANT in-flight entertainment suite are the hard product base of the airline.
Additionally to these novel features, JetBlue has also included in-seat power, with AC, USB-A and USB-C charging ports.
‘The nice, little plane that is not a threat’
During the 2015 Paris Air Show, the former Airbus Group SE sales chief John Leahy dismissed the idea that the by-then Bombardier CSeries might pose a competitive threat. In his words, Leahy described it as a “nice, little plane, but is not threat.”
Three years later, the European airframer began a progressive takeover of the beleaguered CSeries program, transforming it into the Airbus A220, with the Bombardier CS100 now branded as Airbus A220-100, and the larger CS300 as A220-300.
Following the Airbus A220 orders from Air Canada (AC) in 2016, and Delta Air Lines in 2016, 2018, and 2019, JetBlue became the third North American customer of the type, with an order announced on December 31, 2018, for 60 aircraft plus 10 options, which were exercised into firm orders in the 2019 Paris Air Show.
JetBlue’s first in-service Airbus A200-300 (N3008J · MSN 55099) performed its first flight on December 10, 2020, and it was delivered to B6 on December 31, 2020. The jetliner features a brand-new tailfin livery called ‘Hops’, designed by JetBlue.The first JetBlue Airbus A220 has been christened as Rob Dewar after the current Airbus SVP Customer Satisfaction and former Bombardier CSeries Program Director. Dewar is considered to be the father of the now-named Airbus A220. Click To Tweet
Hopping Short and Medium-haul. What about Transcon?
The 3,400nm range of the Airbus A220, further improved by the recently announced increase in its Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW), makes the aircraft a versatile jetliner for exploiting secondary markets and frequent shuttles between JetBlue’s focus cities such as New York (JFK), Boston (BOS), and Fort Lauderdale (FLL).
JetBlue plans to add at least seven new destinations to its network in 2021, with more to come as the US domestic travel begins to regain demand.
The Airbus A220-300 also opens the doors to JetBlue to serve long, thin transcontinental routes which would have been not feasible to operate with B6’s existing fleet. The airline plans to take delivery of a second A220 by the next week, and six additional aircraft before the end of the year.
In addition to the Airbus A220s, JetBlue has also taken delivery of factory-fresh A321neos, the first to feature the airline’s new Mint cabin product. B6 is also expecting to welcome the A321LR, the long-range variant of the type which will enable the airline to serve London, its first transatlantic destination. B6 also has 50 A321XLRs on order, scheduled for delivery from 2023.
After the storm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be sunshine, and JetBlue readies to add blue skies with brand-new airplanes, new destinations, and new partnerships that will define the next two decades of JetBlue, and its transformation from a low-cost airline into a true hybrid airline.
15:30 ET (19:30 GMT) – The Inaugural Event
To officially welcome the Airbus A220-300 into the JetBlue fleet, John Flaherty, B6 Boston General Manager, and Ursula Hurley, the airline’s Head of Treasury and Investor Relations, welcomed the passengers, aviation enthusiasts, and media guests around gate C9 at Boston-Logan International Airport.
“It is so nice to be greeting something in the aviation industry today, and as you all know we join in the bunch for the Airbus A220,” Flaherty commented.
Amid the excitement of the attendees to the event, Flaherty highlighted that the new aircraft “offers a pretty cool passenger experience for you all guys you are going to get today, and we are glad to have you on board with us.”
Hurley also remarked that since the placement of the aircraft order in 2018, the airline has been working to create “a wonderful product, that hopefully all of you customers will love. This [the Airbus A220] is a next-generation aircraft and combines comfort, style, and substance, unique to JetBlue design that we know you are going to love.”
Hurley highlighted that JetBlue’s Airbus A220s will have the most legroom in coach in any single-aisle aircraft, further complemented with a state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment suite, in-flight internet, and live TV, together with personalized on-demand entertainment.
She continued, “Every aspect of this passenger experience has been meticulously designed to make you feel at home when you are in the air.”
Besides John Flaherty and Ursula Hurley on behalf of JetBlue, representatives from Pratt and Whitney and Massport, the operator of BOS airport, joined them in the brief ribbon-cutting ceremony next to the boarding gate.
16:50 ET (20:50 GMT) – Takeoff!
The Flight Crew is led by Captain JR Keegan and First Officer Tim Wenher, who are among the first 40 JetBlue Pilots to join the Airbus A220-300 roster. Before the inaugural flight, JetBlue completed a 50-hour flight-proving schedule.
With the boarding gate closed at 16:31 ET, the plane started its pushback and taxi to runway 27, from which it departed at 16:49 local time after a 47-second takeoff roll.
After takeoff, the aircraft made a small left turn, steadily climbing to 36,000 feet, its assigned flight level. By 17:15 ET, the aircraft was spotted passing just to the west of Newark, New Jersey, with approximately two hours and a half left in the flight.
19:56 ET (23:56 GMT) – Approach and Landing
During the flight, a speed test revealed the onboard WiFi to have a download speed of 24mbps. The Viasat-Supported Nationwide WiFi worked flawlessly during the inaugural flight, and it has become one of JetBlue’s hallmark features.
Every passenger seat onboard JetBlue’s Airbus A220-300 have a 10.1″ high definition screen, which is part of the Thales AVANT in-flight entertainment system. The screen offers picture-in-picture functionality, custom connected applications, audio-and-video-on-demand, and personal electronic device pairing. This platform also offers 30 channels of live television with DVR-like pause and rewind functionality.
Each seat also includes three power ports. There is a USB-A port attached to the screen, while passengers have a 110V port and a 15W USB-C outlet beneath the seats.
The aircraft, fairly compact from the outside, has a wide-body appeal from the inside, with large windows and ample cabin height. The cabin includes 30 Even More Space seats at 35″ pitch, four rows at the front of the aircraft, and two at the overwing exits. The standard coach seats feature 32″ of pitch and a width of 18″. The seats are upholstered in elegant gray leather, with an orange headcover in the Even More Space seats to distinguish them from the rest of the seats in the cabin.
Four small, netted seat pockets at the bottom of the seat are put to good use to hold small items such as a water bottle, for example. The Collins Aerospace Meridian are slim-line seats, and the legroom of 32’’ is ample, even for larger people.
The Airbus A220’s optimal operating economics support JetBlue’s long-term strategy to stay true to its low-cost business model given the current market conditions. The aircraft, powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1500G GTF engines also sustains the environmental sustainability goals of the airline. JetBlue has announced plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in its operations by 2040.
After three hours and 24 minutes, flight B61391 landed in Tampa International Airport on runway 1L at 19:56 ET (23:56 GMT). The aircraft pulled into gate A14, located in TPA’s Airside A, putting this inaugural flight to an end.