The JetBlue A320 retrofit program is delayed. Again. But it is still expected to complete on time (a couple years later than initially planned), at the end of 2020.
This time around the delay is a knock-on effect of Airbus failing to deliver new A321neo aircraft on time. While the first A321neo for the company was delivered in Q2 the remaining 12 previously expected in 2019 has been reduced to only five additional aircraft. As a result the company will keep its existing A320ceo fleet in service rather than pulling them out for retrofits, helping to make up for the lost capacity the non-deliveries remove from the fleet.
The airline has 28 planes restyled as of today, according to President Joanna Geraghty. Under the revised plan the airline will get to approximately 50 restyled by the end of the year. The carrier has 130 A320s in its fleet.
In late 2016 the expectation was that more than 80% of the fleet retrofits would complete by the end of 2019. In October 2018 the projection was that 53% of the fleet – 69 frames – would be complete by the end of the year.
Now that target stands at just under 40%.
On the plus side, Geraghty called attention to passenger satisfaction with the retrofit planes. Net promoter scores increase by 7 points for travelers on the reconfigured interiors. Updated entertainment systems from Thales, in-seat power and other facets of the new interiors contribute to that improvement.
Further delay impacts
The company is clear that the timing shift is not expected to delay the overall program beyond the end of 2020 for completion. Rather, the carrier will “accelerate the program next year to complete the program.” The retrofit program launched with intentions to only convert aircraft as part of major maintenance checks for the planes. It would extend the timing of those checks, but not skew the aircraft utilization too much. Shifting the work into 2020 means breaking from that plan and pulling planes out of service outside their regularly scheduled maintenance cycles. This increases the costs of the retrofit program.
JetBlue must also account for the reduced A321neo capacity in 2020 as part of the work. Not only will the carrier be seven frames short in 2019 but it will be one short in 2020 (reduced from 15 to 14). This led the carrier to revise its growth plans, trimming 2% from the expected expansion. Some of this will come from continued efforts to target growth towards peak travel days but much of it will come from simply operating fewer aircraft. Still, the carrier must reconcile the increased pace of retrofits required in 2020 to reach the project completion goal with the expected growth plans.
Despite the announced shift of A321neo deliveries for 2019 and 2020 the carrier does not anticipate adjusting its plans to launch service to London in 2021.
The retrofit project was first announced in November 2014 and incurred multiple delays since, mostly due to vendor issues. Problems with the inflight entertainment kit from Thales Inflyt caused the initial delay. Those gave way to issues with the new lavatories before work finally began in early 2018.