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Keeping E190s remains an option for JetBlue: CFO

Though JetBlue Airways continues evaluating a potential replacement for its Embraer 190s, a top executive stresses that the airline could ultimately decide to keep the aircraft.

Chief financial officer Steve Priest says JetBlue's E190s, despite having relatively high costs, perform particularly well on short-haul, high-frequency routes from Boston, where JetBlue has a large and expanding presence.

"One option is to keep the E190s," Priest says during the JP Morgan Aviation, Transportation and Industrials Conference. "The E190… is a great aircraft for us, particularly in the Boston market."

During the same conference, JetBlue executive vice-president of commercial and planning Marty St George says JetBlue sees opportunity to expand its daily flights in Boston from 150 to 200.

The airline's 31% market share in Boston is less than other carriers typically hold in so-called "focus cities", St George notes.

"Typically, focus-city share is much, much higher than 31%. It's one of the reasons we are so bullish about opportunities in the market," St George says.

JetBlue's executives have made clear they are considering replacing 60 E190s with Embraer's next generation E-Jets E2 or Bombardier's CSeries.

The carrier has said the E190s are relatively costly to operate, citing high maintenance expenses.

"When we look at E190, we do have some headwinds from a maintenance standpoint. That has triggered the review," Priest says.

Air Canada faced a similar decision, and in 2016 decided to replace its E190s with CS300s. Air Canada estimates those aircraft will cost 12% less to operate per seat mile than E190s, that carrier's CFO Michael Rousseau said during the JP Morgan conference.

JetBlue had intended to complete its fleet review by the end of 2017, but the timelines slipped. In January, Priest said "the bulk" of the review was done.

Priest says Airbus' acquisition of 50.01% of the CSeries programme last year, and subsequent news that Boeing seeks a piece of Embraer, "changed the dynamic" of the review.

"We are talking with the existing OEMs… We are going through those discussions at the moment," he says. "At the end of the day, we have to get our capital allocation right."

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