SQUAW VALLEY, CALIFORNIA — David Clark is vice president, network planning for JetBlue. He is responsible for the airline’s flight schedule, network optimization and flight profitability.
Previously, Clark was the airline’s director, schedule planning. He joined the airline in May 2009 as director, Route Planning and is considered one of the architects of JetBlue’s expansion in Boston and Latin America.
Clark was a presenter at the recent 21st Annual International Aviation Forecast Summit hosted by Mike Boyd. He spoke exclusively with Airways about JetBlue’s Cuba strategy, its return to Atlanta, and its fleet plans.
Airways: Mike Boyd released a study of Cuba at his aviation summit and one of his points was that right now, the country has too much airline capacity. What is JetBlue’s position on this?
David Clark: We were the first commercial carrier to land in Cuba. The Caribbean region is a big part of our network and Cuba fits well within our network. Markets like this are highly regulated and are a bit more challenging because of supply and demand. There will be 20 flights a day out of Havana, but we’re excited to compete and build our brand in the country. So far, we’ve had a good response from our customers, and we already have five years of experience flying charters there.
After a 13-year absence, JetBlue is returning to Atlanta. Why do you see that market as underserved?
Atlanta is by far the largest metro area that we don’t serve. It’s a significant hole in our network. Our corporate clients wanted us to complete our network, so we listened.
With Mint, JetBlue created an affordable standard for premium class travel. Before Mint, Virgin America had strong market share on the east-west routes. How much of their market share do you think JetBlue has taken?
We been extremely pleased with the success of Mint. I know we’ve generated traffic from other carriers. We’ve had corporate clients move to JetBlue. [Virgin America] CEO David Cush called transcon traffic “a wasteland” [at the Boyd summit]. But we’ve had a different experience. We like having a product where customers can pay a reasonable fare for a premium experience.
We already announced a Mint expansion last year and we’ve started rolling it out. We’re rolling out Boston-San Francisco and Boston-Los Angeles in a few months. We add Mint from JFK Airport to St. Maarten and St. Lucia this fall, and will add Las Vegas, San Diego, Seattle and Fort Lauderdale. We’re excited about starting up these launches.
It’s been a little more than a year since you unveiled JetBlue’s fare families. What has been the reaction since the launch?
It has been really positive. Customers have been so burned in the past with fees by other carriers. I think some naturally expect change to be bad. We still sell the same quality as before, but now we have two more options. We offer a more expensive fare that offer flexibility. So we didn’t take away anything. We just added options.
We want our customers to be able to pick and choose the features that are best for them and we wanted to give more options.
JetBlue has said that it’s interested in the Airbus A321neo LR. Is there any update on the timeline when it will enter the fleet?
We announced that we have conversion rights on some of our A321neo orders. We do not have much more to share. The rights are available starting in 2019. We have been spending a lot of time with Airbus talking about the economics and performance of the aircraft. It’s interesting how it could fulfill some of the things we may do in the future. So it’s an interesting discussion we’re having as we look at our options.
JetBlue has a lot of airline partners. Where the growth is for that in the future? Will you do more codesharing?
We have 50 airline partners and 15 codeshare partners. They’ve all been great partners that that help us get traffic that we wouldn’t have the ability to get otherwise. We put our flight number on flights operated by international partners. It’s helped us grow not only tactically, but also strategically in places like Boston and San Juan so we can grow our network faster and offer even more flights to our customers. I don’t have responsibility for this team, but we work closely together and one of their goals is to go deeper with these partnerships.
In the U.S., we’re partners with Silver Airways, Seaborne Airlines and Cape Air. They help us in small destinations that our aircraft are too big to fit into.
Editor’s note: after this interview, JetBlue signed a codesharing agreement with Cape Air covering Boston and San Juan.
For network planning purposes what does 2017 look like for JetBlue?
We’ll continue to do what we’ve done in 2016. We’ll continue growing our focus cities of Boston and Fort Lauderdale. We’ll also focus on growth on the West Coast in Long Beach, and we’ll work on the Mint expansion. We feel quite comfortable with the growth we have and it will continue.