JetBlue is hinting at a dramatic change in its business strategy

JetBlue Airbus A321JetBlueJetBlue Airbus A321.

The skies over the North Atlantic could be getting a bit more crowded.

On Tuesday, JetBlue Airways CEO Robin Hayes hinted during a call with investors that the New York-based airline could launch service to Europe from the East Coast of the United States around the end of the decade.

The timing of the news centered on JetBlue’s announcement of an order for 30 Airbus A321 aircraft worth up $3.6 billion at list prices.

More specifically, the announcement said that as many as 15 of the planes could be optioned to be the next generation A321neo LR.

“This enhanced aeroplane type could very well be a game changer for us and provide us the ability to start JetBlue flights to Europe from other East Cost focus cities should we choose to do so,” Hayes said on the call.

The A321neo LR (“neo” stands for new engine option; “LR” stands for longer range) can seat up to 240 passengers with a range up to 4,600 miles — making it ideal for transatlantic flights.

In recent years, the boutique airline abandoned its all-economy-class business model and launched an award-winning Mint premium cabin. Mint is currently available on many of JetBlue’s transcontinental flights and will be available on its routes to Europe.

Currently, more than 80% of the flights across the Atlantic are operated by American, Delta, United, and their respective alliance partners. However, several low-cost and boutique carriers such as Norwegian Air and Iceland’s WOW have attempted to edge in on the crowded, but highly lucrative, market.

JetBlue’s entry into the transatlantic market could also play a role in the on-going dispute between the Middle East’s three mega-airlines and the three US legacy carriers.

JetBlue Mint ServiceJetBlueJetBlue Mint.

JetBlue currently has a codeshare agreement with Dubai’s Emirates that allows the two airlines to sell tickets on each other’s flights. The launch of JetBlue flights to Europe could, in theory, give Emirates a back door into flights over the North Atlantic.

Although Emirates currently operates a route between Milan and New York, it doesn’t offer service between any other US city and major destinations in Northern and Western Europe. 

According to Airbus, many of the 30 A321s in the announced order will be produced at the company’s factory in Mobile, Alabama. Including Tuesday’s order, JetBlue currently has 116 Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft on order. JetBlue expects Airbus to deliver this latest batch of aircraft over the next seven years, with the A321neo LR aircraft starting after 2019. 

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