Russ Chew, the former American airline flight operations director who spent almost four years trying to make the FAA’s Air Traffic Organisation run or at least run better, said a few weeks back he would leave for the private sector. And a few weeks after he said he’d be leaving the FAA, he announced what would seem like dream job: going to Hawaii to run Hawaiian Airlines daily operations as executive vice president. Alas, paradise wasn’t good enough for Russ, 54, who now says that he will forsake the fair isles of the Pacific for a somewhat less sunny shore: he’s going to Queens, New York, home of troubled JetBlue, to run the low-cost carrier’s daily system as chief operating officer.
Chew starts 19 March, about a month after the now infamous meltdown that left JetBlue planes on the runway for hours, stranding hundreds, delaying thousands more and getting seven-year-old JetBlue the worst kind of public attention. The fiasco, which lasted for days, forced jet blue chief executive Dave Neeleman to go on an apology campaign (Neeleman was still apologising, last we looked) and spurred a national move for passenger bill of rights. Chew will report to JetBlue’s number two, president Dave Barger, who had held the chief operating officer title.
Whether this will be enough to put the shine back on the airline’s reputation as a darling of Wall Street and a passenger favourite is far from clear. The carrier has lost money as it struggles with increasing competition on its Northeast-Florida routes and on its transcontinental routes, competition from reinvigourated legacy carriers such as Delta and US Airways on the north-south routes and from United and Continental on the east-west routes. Its plan to add smaller cities to bulk up network synergies has stumbled as the new aircraft type it introduced for that strategy, the Embraer E190 100-seaters, have suffered significant teething pains, including software problems that have forced JetBlue to take its 25 E-Jets out of service two at a time and send them to an Embraer facility in Nashville for software fixes. It expects the planes to be back in service by May, when business really gets busy. Until then, JetBlue has arranged with ExpressJet to serve some of its routes such as Boston Logan and both Buffalo, NY, and Washington Dulles; and flights between its New York JFK hub and both Columbus, Ohio, and Richmond, VA. The ExpressJet fleet is composed of little Embraers in the 50-seat range, which – unlike the bigger E-Jets – are just plain not liked.