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Airport slots key to JetBlue's Europe plans: CEO

Access to competitive slots at London Heathrow continues to be a crucial factor in JetBlue Airways' deliberation over starting flights across the Atlantic, as the airline's chief executive persists in highlighting challenges faced by smaller carriers like JetBlue in an industry dominated by bigger rivals.

"Many things have to fall into place," Hayes said earlier today at the Wings Club luncheon in New York, responding to a question on potential Europe flights. "We have to offer competitive schedules at airports like Heathrow when people will want to fly. We continue to work on that."

JetBlue has been considering flights to Europe for years, a decision that will determine if it converts some Airbus orders to the A321LR.

Securing slots at constrained airports like Heathrow continues to be one of the obstacles faced by JetBlue and other smaller carriers in a landscape overwhelmed by US mainline carriers and their overseas joint venture partners, says Hayes.

This is not the first time that Hayes has urged more regulatory oversight of airline joint ventures. The airline has made a habit of urging the US government to restrict new joint ventures to a fixed period and to review them periodically before allowing such deals to be renewed, among other limitations.

Hayes says JetBlue was "delighted" that the US Department of Transportation responded to such feedback when approving the joint venture between Delta Air Lines and Aeromexico in 2016, by restricting it to five years.

The two carriers were also required to divest slots at Mexico City airport, of which JetBlue received a handful. Despite this, the airline has found it an "ongoing struggle" to make them work in an environment dominated by Delta and Aeromexico, says Hayes.

JetBlue operates to Mexico City from four US cities, including service from Boston and New York John F Kennedy that recently began.

"The Mexico City decision is a great template to follow when airlines seek to link up and it’s something we urge governments around the globe to consider more aggressively," says Hayes of the slot divestiture by Delta and Aeromexico.

Closer to home, the airline continues to face challenges growing at US airports like Atlanta, where JetBlue is forced to operate its 10 daily flights "over gates spread over two different concourses", says Hayes.

"One airline has control or rights to 147 of the airport’s 193 gates," says Hayes, referring to Delta Air Lines. "That’s more than 75% – while JetBlue is not able to lease a single gate. Literally not one."

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