JetBlue to start A320 sharklet retrofits next year

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JetBlue will start retrofitting sharklets on its in-service Airbus A320s in the second quarter of 2015, says Dave Ramage, senior advisor at JetBlue and its former vice-president technical operations.

The New York-based low-cost carrier will start retrofitting the sharklets at a rate of two aircraft per month, says Ramage, noting that the rate could change depending on availability of kits and aircraft as well as MRO capacity. The airline has not yet chosen a service provider to do the installations, he notes.

"There is keen interest is getting this done as quickly as possible so there is an appetite to increase the throughput if possible," says Ramage.

The carrier introduced its first A320 with the sharklets, registration N821JB, on 21 February 2013. JetBlue is receiving its new A320s with the wingtips, which Airbus installs as a production retrofit before delivering the aircraft.

JetBlue was also able to retrofit the sharklets on five A320s delivered before that aircraft, which were manufactured with wings that could support the additional wingtip structures. However, JetBlue's older A320s must undergo special structural modifications before the sharklets can be applied.

“Now we have to go back and we have to beef up wing structure, and that’s a big job,” says Ramage, speaking on the sidelines of the MRO Americas conference in Phoenix on 10 April. “That would be the single biggest project we have coming up,” he says, referring to MRO projects the carrier is undertaking.

The airline signed a letter of intent with Airbus to buy 110 shipsets of retrofittable sharklets in February 2013.

JetBlue now flies 14 aircraft outfitted with sharklets. This includes three A320s and six A321s delivered with the wingtips installed and the five that were retrofitted in-house, says Ramage.

So far, the aircraft JetBlue does have with sharklets are producing expected fuel burn benefits at “around 4%,” says Ramage.

Airbus announced it would be offering a sharklet retrofit programme for in-service A320s and A319s in October 2013. It estimated the retrofits would take about 13 days.

The programme covers airframes with registrations beginning at MSN1200, which was built in 2000, data from Flightglobal’s Ascend Online database shows. All but three of JetBlue’s in-service A320s were built after that time.

Ramage, who has overseen maintenance operations at JetBlue for more than a decade, will retire in July. Until then he is advising the carrier's new head of technical operations, David Campbell.