ANALYSIS: JetBlue to challenge American, Spirit in growing US-Haiti market

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JetBlue Airways will be competing against the two dominant carriers in South Florida when the New York-based airline enters the expanding US-Haiti air travel market later this year.

But despite the competition, Fort Lauderdale and New York ­­- the two cities from which JetBlue will serve Haiti - are also home to some of the largest communities of people of Haitian descent in the US, according to government data.

JetBlue's plan is to fly to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince twice daily from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport in Florida and once daily from New York's John F. Kennedy International airport (JFK) starting 5 December and pending government approval, the carrier announces today.

The US-Haiti air market has grown steadily in recent years, climbing 41% since 2005 to roughly 683,000 seats in 2012, according to Capstats.

Carriers will offer 601,000 seats from the US to Haiti between January and September 2013, the latest period of available data from Capstats.

Source: Capstats

JetBlue faces competition on both routes from American Airlines, a powerhouse in South Florida.

Fort Worth-based American flies 12 weekly flights to Port-au-Prince from Fort Lauderdale using 169-seat Boeing 737-800 aircraft, and 28 times weekly to Port-au-Prince from Miami International airport, which is about 20 miles south of Fort Lauderdale.

American operates the Miami flights using 187-seat Boeing 757s, 225-seat 767s and 737s, according to Flightglobal's database.

Miramar, Florida-based Spirit Airlines also flies to Port-au-Prince from Fort Lauderdale daily using 145-seat Airbus A319 aircraft. Spirit is the second largest carrier in terms of capacity at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport, behind JetBlue.

Competition also comes from InselAir, based on the East Indies island of Curacao, which offers daily flights from Miami to Port-au-Prince on 152-seat Boeing MD-83 aircraft. In addition, Air France operates five weekly flights using 169-seat A320s from Miami to Port-au-Prince.

Haiti is a former French colony with long-standing ties to France.

Additional competition comes from Fort Lauderdale-based IBC Air, which operates a variety of commuter aircraft and flies from Fort Lauderdale and Miami to the Haitian city of Cap-Haitien, which is on the northern coast of the island of Hispaniola.

Also, Haitian operator Tortug'Air has said it intends to start daily service between Fort Lauderdale and Cap-Haitien. The airline operates three 17-seat Let L-410 aircraft and three 19-seat BAe Systems Jetstream 32 aircraft, but struck an agreement in November to wet lease 50-seat Bombardier CL600-2B19 aircraft from Johannesburg's Cemair.

JetBlue will also go up against American and Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines in New York, where both those carriers offer daily flights from JFK to Port-au-Prince. Delta also serves Port-au-Prince from Atlanta.

There were close to one million people of Haitian descent living in the United States in 2011, including roughly 400,000 in Florida and 200,000 in New York, according to the US Census Bureau.

In Florida, about 110,000 people of Haitian descent live in Broward County and 125,000 live in Miami-Dade County. Fort Lauderdale is in Broward County and Miami International airport is in Miami-Dade County.

But officials say the number of Haitian immigrants is much higher than the Census Bureau reports.

According to the Haiti consulate in New York City, there are 800,000 to 900,000 people of Haitian descent in the New York metropolitan area, which includes parts of Connecticut and New Jersey, and nearly that many in Florida.