Executive appointments: JetBlue Airways

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JetBlue's confidence trick

In a move instigated at board level and designed to restore confidence in the still young carrier, JetBlue Airways has promoted David Barger to be its chief executive officer and president, with founder David Neeleman agreeing to step down from his post and become chairman of the JetBlue board.

Barger, a member of JetBlue's board since 2001, joined JetBlue as president and chief operating officer shortly after Neeleman founded the airline in 1998. Now 47, Neeleman had overseen a gradual shift in the carrier's executive roster to strengthen its operating ranks. But after winter storms in mid-February essentially shut JetBlue down and forced it to cancel nearly 1,700 flights, stranding thousands of travellers in the process and prompting a very public apology from Neeleman, the carrier encountered both investor and passenger disfavour.

After the storms, JetBlue hired a former top US FAA officer, Russell Chew, as chief operating officer. That let Barger, a former Continental Airlines executive who had overseen its New York Newark hub, focus less on day-to-day operations. With the recent move, Chew has risen to become Barger's second in command. Earlier, Barger, now 49, had worked at New York Air, later a unit of Continental, becoming its chief of stations.

Analysts see the move as a logical one, strengthening the operational side of the carrier and allowing Neeleman to concentrate on big strategic issues.

Ray Neidl, an analyst with Calyon Securities, noted that JetBlue "has been moving in the direction for the past year of replacing much of the management team with strong operating personnel".

The changes are a "natural evolution of our leadership structure as JetBlue continues to grow", confirms Neeleman. "As chairman of the board of directors, I will focus on developing JetBlue's long-term vision and strategy, and how we can continue to be a preferred product in a commodity business."

In a further move to bolster its operations team, JetBlue has promoted John Ross to vice-president of flight operations, reporting to Chew. Ross will lead JetBlue's 1,700 pilots and flight operations team, including its Airbus A320 and Embraer 190 aircraft.

A veteran US Airways executive, Ross joined JetBlue in 2005 as director of flight safety, and has served as interim vice-president of the airline's system operations department since March.