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ANALYSIS: JetBlue charts next moves in Latin America and the Caribbean

Long synonymous with its home base at New York's John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport, JetBlue is setting its sights south as it aims to increase its presence in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Having established a name for itself in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, where it is now the largest carrier, JetBlue is aiming to add more islands in the Caribbean to its network and is not ruling out launching flights to new Latin American destinations like Brazil and Peru, its director of network planning John Checketts tells Flightglobal.

The airline has of late emphasised that its future growth in the short term will be out of Boston, the Caribbean and Latin America. JetBlue says that it expects to grow capacity in Latin America and the Caribbean by about 10% year-on-year in 2013.

In recent months, it has steadily announced new destinations and routes in the region. It launched flights to Cartagena, Samana (Dominican Republic) and Grand Cayman Island in November 2012. Five months earlier, JetBlue named San Juan, Puerto Rico, as its sixth focus city. San Juan is the carrier's first focus city outside of the US mainland.

In June 2013, JetBlue will add the Colombian city of Medellin to its network, with daily flights from Fort Lauderdale. During the same month, JetBlue will also launch non-stop flights between Fort Lauderdale and San Jose in Costa Rica, joining the two existing destinations in its network.

Including Medellin, JetBlue will serve 27 destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2013, it says. Over the years, its daily departures out of Latin America and the Caribbean grew to 180 in the second quarter of 2012 from 60 in the second quarter of 2008.

The region has been "wildly successful" for the airline, Checketts says, noting that JetBlue had started off with just a few destinations in the Caribbean. According to Flightglobal/Innovata data, JetBlue's share of the US-Caribbean passenger market in terms of available seat kilometres grew to 24.5% in December 2012 from 21.7% in January 2012.

In South and Central America, the airline's capacity almost doubled from 2010 to 2012.

 

Market share of airlines operating between the USA and the Caribbean, December 2012

Source: Innovata Flightmaps Analytics

 

JetBlue capacity to South and Central America, from January 2010 to December 2012

Source: Capstats

Looking ahead, JetBlue is studying launching more flights to the region from the USA, adding more destinations in Latin America and starting more interisland flying in the Caribbean from San Juan, says Checketts.

Noting that JFK is a slot-controlled airport, Checketts says that while JetBlue will still continue looking for opportunities to serve Latin America and the Caribbean from its base, it sees more potential for flights from Florida.

"New York is always going to be a focus. But there will definitely be a ramp-up in Florida," he says. Other US cities that could possibly benefit from direct connections to San Juan include Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore, says Checketts, as he points out the success JetBlue has had with its flights to San Juan from Washington DC and Hartford.

In the Caribbean, Checketts says that there is a possibility of more interisland flying from San Juan on routes that can support jet service. "If we don't fly to San Juan from one of those islands, it's on the table," he adds. The airline now flies non-stop from San Juan to the Dominican Republic's Santiago, Punta Cana and Santo Domingo, the US Virgin Islands' St Thomas and St Croix, as well as Saint Maarten.

In Latin America, the carrier is eyeing flights to destinations in Peru, Panama, Guatemala and Brazil. Checketts says there are "two or three" destinations in Brazil that the airline could reach from Fort Lauderdale with its Airbus A320s. JetBlue is set to add larger A321s to its fleet during the fourth quarter of 2013.

The airline's passengers who fly with the carrier to Latin America and the Caribbean are predominantly vacationing Americans as well as those visiting friends and relatives who live in the region, says Checketts. However, it also attracts northbound traffic on certain routes, such as passengers who travel from Colombia to New York or Florida for vacation.

While JetBlue is aware that it faces stiff competition from other carriers, such as Spirit Airlines, for the passenger market between the USA and Latin America and the Caribbean, Checketts says that the airline is confident in its product. Spirit serves several destinations in Central and South America, including Bogota, Guatemala City, Panama City and Lima from its base of Fort Lauderdale.

Saying that Spirit caters to a different passenger profile, Checketts says: "They are a great airline... but we have a slightly different customer segment."

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