JetBlue to begin winglet retrofits on A320s in Q1

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JetBlue will begin retrofits of fuel-saving winglets on its existing Airbus A320 fleet during the first quarter, and expects to complete the retrofits by 2017.

New A320s will be delivered to the airline with sharklets and JetBlue expects to retrofit the winglets on to five existing A320s this year, says the airline's chief financial officer Mark Powers in an earnings call today.

JetBlue is scheduled to take delivery of three A320s in 2013 as well as its first four A321s, says Powers. JetBlue will also add seven Embraer 190s in 2013, after accelerating the deliveries of some E-190s to take advantage of 100-seat opportunities out of Boston and San Juan.

Powers says that the airline has a lot of flexibility to decide on the pace of the winglet installations on its existing A320s, but expects them to be completed in 2016 to 2017.

JetBlue's chief executive Dave Barger says that the sharklets will result in "significant fuel savings" for the carrier. The airline's bigger A321s, slated to arrive in the fourth quarter, will also help reduce unit costs.

"They will accommodate up to 190 passengers and allow us to operate our slot portfolio in New York more efficiently," says Barger. JetBlue is based at New York John F. Kennedy, which is a slot-controlled airport.

Barger said last September that it was still awaiting word from Airbus on when it can roll out winglet retrofits across its A320s, adding then that Airbus had not committed to the project in an impasse that Barger termed "frustrating".