US budget carrier JetBlue is considering adding transatlantic routes to Europe before the end of the decade.
The prospect was raised when the fifth-largest US airline by traffic outlined new order for 30 single-aisle Airbus A321s valued at about $3.6 billion at list prices.
The order enables JetBlue to opt for a new, long-range version of the A321, which Airbus plans to offer in 2019.
Fitted with new engines, extra fuel tanks and heavier landing gear, the long-haul version of the A321 is expected to be able to fly 4,000 nautical miles with 220 passengers in an all-economy layout. This would bring Europe within range of the US east coast.
Chief executive Robin Hayes said: “Starting in 2019, we will have the option to convert any A321neos to the Longer Range or LR version.
“This enhanced airplane type could will be a game changer for us and provide us the ability to start JetBlue flights to Europe from other east coast focused cities, should we chose to do so.”
And the airline’s planning executive vice president Marty St George said: “We certainly see Europe as a great opportunity.”
He said 87% of capacity across the Atlantic is controlled by carriers who are members of global airline alliances, resulting in a “very high fare environment”.
St George added: “When we see markets across the Atlantic that are important business markets that have very high fares, we think that’s a great opportunity for us.”
But Hayes cautioned that New York-based JetBlue may not take any options on the long-range aircraft. A decision will be made at the end of 2017.
The initial focus is to deploy about half of the new aircraft on the carrier’s premium-service Mint routes across the US and to the Caribbean after it lost out to Alaska Airlines in acquiring rival Virgin America in April.
JetBlue plans to offer up to 70 Mint flights a day to 13 destinations by next year, with 31 aircraft configured for the service which includes 16 business class-style seats which convert into lie-flat beds.
The airline has also been among those chosen to start flying to Cuba from the US, with daily services planned from Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and New York to Havana later this year.
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