Published On: Tue, Jun 16th, 2015

JetBlue Airways eyes long-range Airbus for growth overseas

jetblueNEW YORK - JetBlue Airways Corp is eyeing a long-range plane from Airbus that could carry its customers to distant places abroad for the first time in its history, potentially growing its network in South America.

The largely U.S. domestic carrier sees a potential fit for the long-range version of Airbus Group SE's A321neo aircraft, JetBlue's Executive Vice President for Commercial and Planning Marty St. George said in an interview Monday.

Airbus is pitching the single-aisle A321LR as an alternative to the Boeing Co 757 that was last manufactured a decade ago. So far, no U.S. airlines have ordered the Airbus plane.

The aircraft would give JetBlue a chance to reach new markets without adding immensely to its costs. It already has maintenance and crew-training operations in place for planes in the Airbus A320 family, which includes the long-range A321.

The New York-based airline has some 100 aircraft in the A320 family on order for delivery through 2023, and its agreement with Airbus permits it to swap the models that it receives, St. George said.

"It's a plane we know well," St. George said, noting that A320s and A321s make up the majority of JetBlue's current fleet. "If the (new) plane does what Airbus says it does, I am very excited for the airplane."

New routes to South America could serve as an extension of JetBlue's service to Colombia and large network in the Caribbean, where it recently expanded to Grenada.

"We could even make it into Brazil with a 321LR," St. George said.

He added: "I think it will work for a lot of places we don't fly right now, and Western Europe is one of them."

St. George said many customers have asked that JetBlue launch routes to destinations in Europe, in range of the A321LR.

However, he said the airline is focused instead on expanding its core markets such as Latin America. Another airline official said JetBlue is not considering flights to Europe at this time.

U.S. airlines view long-range jets with only one aisle as a sweet spot for distant cities that can't draw enough customers to fill widebody planes. They have called on Boeing to design a new 757 model, while its next largest aircraft, the widebody 767, is being replaced by the fuel-efficient 787 Dreamliner.

Airbus still is developing the A321LR and plans for deliveries to begin in 2019.

By Jeffrey Dastin

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