The long awaited JetBlue A320 retrofit or “cabin restyling” program is now underway. The project – a gut rebuild of the aircraft interior for more than 100 airplanes – began this week with the first aircraft ferrying to Greensboro, North Carolina where the work will be completed. The project will see new seats, sidewalls, LED-based mood lighting and overhead bins installed, among other updates. The first aircraft is expected to emerge from maintenance at the end of Q1 to reenter revenue service. This project was first announced in November 2014 and has seen multiple delays, mostly due to vendor issues.
Each retrofit aircraft will feature 162 seats, up from the current 150 but down from the 165 initially announced for the retrofit program. The seats (Pinnacle, by B/E Aerospace aka Rockwell Collins aka UTC) will include the LiveTV4 entertainment system with in-seat monitors that are significantly larger, brighter and higher resolution than the current kit. The LTV4 kit includes 100+ channels of live television and on-demand movies; all entertainment options are complimentary. Passengers will also have adjustable headrests, USB & 110V power and water bottle holders throughout the aircraft. These JetBlue A320 retrofit features generally match the A321 fleet flying today.
The company will also redesign the aircraft entryway to add a crew storage closet and additional galley work space. With the additional flight attendant and 12 additional passengers on board the battle for overhead bin space will become more significant. Giving some of the crew a space to store bags outside of the bins is a win for everyone involved, though it is doubtful the extra closet is enough to offset the bin needs of 13 additional people in the cabin.
The retrofit work is spectacularly delayed, owing to issues with vendors Thales and Zodiac. In late 2016 JetBlue called out Thales for delays in delivering its STV+ product for the A320s. That delay carried through to 2017 and over the summer Thales conceded that the STV+ solution would not fly on JetBlue aircraft, “We encountered some delays in the development of STV+ and we made the decision with JetBlue to switch to Avant on their aircraft.”
In November 2017 JetBlue confirmed that the higher-end Thales AVANT system would ultimately fly on the A320 fleet. Alas, that implementation could not be effected in time for even the again delayed initial A320 retrofits. To address that challenge the first tranche of A320s will get the LTV4 kit with AVANT coming later.
While the company was waiting out the IFE system delays it discovered issues with the build quality on the new Space-Flex v2 galley/lav combination it first installed on its A321 all-core fleet. In October 2017 the company informed investors that Space-Flex v2 was not up to spec, delaying the retrofit process.
Regarding our cabin restyling program, the industry has experienced design failures with the space efficient lavatories that we have installed on our A321s, and we are planning to install on the A320s. In September, we began repairing the existing A321s. We’re working with Airbus and Zodiac as well as other business partners to ensure these repairs are effective and address the problems we and other airlines have experienced. We’re doing this before we begin modifications on our A320s to avoid having to take aircraft out of service at a later date.
At the time of that announcement the company promised to revisit the situation monthly until the issues were resolved. Turns out January is when that happened.
As the new layout enters service other changes to the JetBlue inflight service will appear. The additional crewmember on board is a FAA requirement (1 for every 50 seats) but it also means more staff pushing the carts up and down the aisles to deliver the free sodas JetBlue is known for. Carts in the aisle will be new for the company and its passengers as of April 2018.
It is unclear if the planned connectivity upgrades tied to the new arrangement with Viasat and the ViaSat-2 satellite will occur as part of these retrofits or on a separate schedule.