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JetBlue fears Delta's JV could hinder ability to serve Europe

JetBlue Airways in recent weeks filed regulatory documents related to slots at several European airports – a move amid increasing speculation that the carrier's next major expansion could be to Europe.

The filings do not describe concrete plans by JetBlue to serve Europe, but call on US regulators to ensure a proposed joint venture led by Delta Air Lines will not hinder new carriers from serving constrained European airports.

"New aircraft developments make it possible for JetBlue to serve Western Europe from its northeastern United States focus cities," JetBlue told the Department of Transportation in a 17 December filing.

JetBlue executives have already said they are contemplating launching European flights and acquiring Airbus A321LRs, essentially the only Airbus narrowbody with range enough to operate USA-European passenger flights.

JetBlue expects to decide this year whether to pull the trigger on A321LRs, chief executive Robin Hayes stated in a late 2018 memo to employees. Hayes has said JetBlue's decision will rest largely on access at European airports.

That access is central to an ongoing regulatory tussle involving a plan by Delta, Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic to form a single joint venture with immunity from anti-trust laws.

Delta already operates within two immunised European joint ventures: one with Virgin Atlantic and another with Air France, KLM and Alitalia.

In July 2018, however, Delta and its partners asked US regulators to grant anti-trust law immunity to a single joint venture that would replace the two. The single joint venture, which JetBlue calls a "conglomerate mega joint venture", would exclude financially troubled Alitalia, regulatory filings say.

Delta and its partners say their plan will remove "seams" and benefit the travelling public.

JetBlue does not oppose the tie up, but urges regulators to study the potential competitive impact at constrained airports in London, Paris and Amsterdam.

Delta and its partners have attempted "to minimise" that impact, "especially for new entrant carriers", JetBlue's 17 December filing said. But JetBlue warns Delta's plan "would further concentrate an already-concentrated transatlantic marketplace".

"As JetBlue contemplates service to Europe, an expanded [anti-trust] grant to Delta in this case could have severe competitive implications and further restrict JetBlue’s ability to meaningfully serve the United Kingdom and European Union markets," JetBlue told regulators in late November.

Delta denies JetBlue's claims, noting in a 28 December filing that the new joint venture will not negatively impact competition because Delta and its partners already do not compete directly against each other.

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