ANALYSIS: JetBlue ramps up growth at Washington National

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New York-based JetBlue Airways will centre growth in the Washington DC metro area at slot-constrained Washington National, as the airline embarks on a significant spurt in flights from the airport.

The carrier, which won 12 slot pairs at Washington National divested by American Airlines earlier this year, inaugurated the first wave of new flights today. Non-stop service to Charleston, Hartford and Nassau in the Bahamas have taken off, and JetBlue will begin a second daily flight to Tampa on 2 July.

On 18 December, JetBlue will begin non-stop service from Washington National to both Fort Myers and West Palm Beach. The carrier will start with twice daily service during the year-end holiday season, before going down to once daily service after 4 January.

JetBlue's senior vice president for government affairs Robert Land says the airline will announce in the coming weeks additional new flights from Washington National. These could be extra frequencies on existing markets served from the airport, or flights to new markets, he tells Flightglobal. "We would have wanted to announce all of them today, but we couldn't get the analytics done in time," he adds.

Taking into account the seasonal adjustments to Fort Myers and West Palm Beach service, there are still four slot pairs at Washington National that JetBlue has not announced flights for.

The carrier, which has repeatedly expressed its desire for more slots at Washington National, has come a long way at the airport since it began service there in November 2010. Back then, JetBlue had nine slot pairs at Washington National, allowing it to operate seven times daily to Boston, and once daily each to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

By the end of this year, the carrier will operate up to 30 daily round-trip flights out of the airport. "We went from zero to 30," says Land. "It has been tremendous growth, slow but deliberate."

JetBlue's current network at Washington National

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Source: FlightMaps Analytics

In past years, JetBlue has seized upon opportunities to gain access to coveted slots at the airport, which is more popular among some travellers than Washington Dulles due to its close proximity to downtown Washington DC.

In late 2011, the airline was the highest bidder for eight slot pairs at Washington National, paying $40 million for the slots divested as a result of a slot swap between US Airways and Delta Air Lines. The new slots allowed JetBlue to launch daily service in 2012 to Tampa, add three daily round-trips to its Boston service for a total of 10, and two additional daily flights each to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

Later in 2012, JetBlue gained a beyond-perimeter slot pair at Washington National, which allowed it to fly to a destination outside the airport's 2,012km (1,250mi) perimeter. The airline chose to begin service to San Juan.

With the new flights that launched today from Washington National, JetBlue operates 24 daily round trips out of the airport. The carrier also serves Washington Dulles and Baltimore/Washington International, but Land says the airline's focus in the Washington DC metro area is now strictly on Washington National.

"National is more centrally located, but Dulles and BWI [Baltimore/Washington] remain important for us. We will continue to serve Boston and New York from there," he adds.

JetBlue operates 41 times weekly out of Baltimore/Washington National, schedules in Innovata show. The airline announced earlier this year it will cease operations on its non-stop service from Washington Dulles to Oakland and Long Beach after 16 June and 2 September respectively. JetBlue will continue serving Boston and New York John F. Kennedy from Washington Dulles.

With its new flights at Washington National, JetBlue will relocate from the airport's terminal A to terminal B on 3 September, says Land. "Everybody is so excited," he adds.

The airline currently operates out of two gates at Terminal A, where it also has a "spillover" gate. At terminal B, it will have access to four gates and an additional spillover gate, says Land.