JetBlue is putting the brakes on its rollout of new cabin seats thanks to a series of delays from Airbus
- JetBlue announced that it's been forced to delay installing new cabin interiors in its A320 fleet.
- The airline's expected delivery of new A321neo aircraft has been delayed by Airbus, meaning it can't afford the downtime needed to instal the new interiors in its older planes.
- During its Q2 earnings call, the airline did have some good news about the new seats, tho: passengers seem to love them.
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JetBlue has been forced to delay a project to retrofit its airplanes with a new cabin interior. However, the airline says it will be able to finish the project by its original estimated completion date.
During a quarterly conference call with investment analysts on Tuesday, JetBlue's president Joanna Geraghty shared that it's been forced to delay the cabin restyling program due to a delay in receiving the delivery of new aircraft from planemaker Airbus.
JetBlue has ordered a total of 84 Airbus A321neo aircraft - a newer and more efficient version of the A320 - for delivery between this year and 2024. 13 of those aircraft were contractually scheduled to be delivered through 2019; however, Airbus production delays are causing some deliveries to be late. According to Geraghty, the airline expects to receive just six of the new aircraft this year, one of which has already arrived.
"We're very disappointed with the continued delays to our A321neo program as a result of the Airbus production issues, including a further delay that we've received in the last week-and-a-half," said JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes, during the call.
The problem for JetBlue is that airlines have to plan their schedules and routes, including expansions, looking months or even a year forward. JetBlue build its expansion and capacity plans around the assumption that it would have 13 A321neos by the end of this year. Without those planes, it's forced to figure out where it can pull that capacity instead, or risk losing customers or forfeiting valuable landing slots at airports.
The airline lowered its growth plans for next year by two percent, and warned that it might see higher fuel costs, as its current planes are less efficient than the newer A321neo.
Consequently, the airline is slowing down on its touted renovation of its older A320 fleet, of which it has a total of 130 planes. To install the new cabin, the airline would have to take a plane out of service for a period - however, it can't afford to have as many aircraft grounded without the complete Neo order. According to Geraghty, the airline has 28 refurbished older A320s, with a plan to finish 50 by the end of the year.
That represents a significant holdup - in an October, 2018 update, the airline said it expected to have approximately 70 A320 aircraft finished by the end of 2019. There have been several additional delays to the program, which was first announced in 2014.
However, the airline was insistent that that the overhaul of the entire fleet will still finish on schedule, by the end of 2020. It said that it will accelerate the installation process next year, although it was unclear how it would be able to afford to accelerate that if there are still delivery delays for the new A321 Neos.
In positive news, Geraghty shared that passenger satisfaction with the new interior has been marked, with net promotor score increases of seven points for customers on the retrofit planes.
The new interiors feature larger in-flight entertainment screens, more in-seat storage, more width, power for charging devices, and a more modern, stylish aesthetic with mood lighting available. However, it will have slightly less pitch, or legroom, dropping from an average of 34 inches to an average of 32.
The airline also confirmed that Airbus' delivery delays should not affect its planes to begin flying to Europe in 2021.
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