Citing underperformance in both demand and revenue growth, New York-based JetBlue Airways announced Tuesday that it is discontinuing service to Nashville, as well as to Columbus, Ohio.
“After more than 12 months of service and a detailed review of traffic and revenue trends in these two cities, we have decided to redeploy our assets,” said airline CEO Dave Barger in a Tuesday statement.
Occupying the airport’s Gate B-9 since September 2006 — the gate formerly occupied by Independence Air. The airline has operated three flights daily between Nashville and New York City since that time, with fares starting at $89 for each one-way flight and a per-plane capacity of about 100.
The last day of local service will be Jan. 6, 2008. Passengers with travel booked after that date have the option of traveling via Delta Airlines.
JetBlue spokesperson Alison Eshelman said Tuesday the airline’s flights out of Nashville operated on average at about 70 percent of full capacity, and JetBlue was unable to reach profitability with those flights. There was also less demand in Nashville from new passengers, Eshelman said, than what JetBlue had projected.
Tom Jurkovich, director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, said he attributed the airline’s quick departure more to troubles in the airline industry than to poor performance at the Nashville Airport.
Though he didn’t provide specific traffic figures, Jurkovich said Nashville’s air traffic has met and surpassed levels prior to Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorist attacks threw the airline industry into turmoil.
“There continue to be challenges in the airline industry. Fortunately, Nashville’s airline traffic has increased steadily,” Jurkovich said.
Jurkovich said JetBlue would have faced heavy competition in Nashville from Southwest Airlines, a discount fare powerhouse that accounts for more than half the flights that leave the Nashville airport.
JetBlue may also have lost some Nashville patrons earlier this winter, when a snowstorm in New York City resulted in more than 1,000 flights nationwide — and all flights to and from Nashville — being cancelled between Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day. Eshelman said full demand for the airline’s services resumed on a national level in the weeks after the cancellations, but did not have statistics for individual markets.
When JetBlue announced its intentions to serve Nashville last year, Metro Nashville Airport Authority President Raul Regalado said the discount carrier’s arrival came after the authority spent three years evaluating service to New York City. He said then that Delta Air Lines has had a virtual monopoly on the route to New York’s JFK International and added that the fares were out of line.
MNAA spokesperson Emily Richards said Tuesday that Regalado is currently out of town, but that the authority constantly works to recruit more airlines and destination options to the airport.
“We’re always looking,” Richards said.
As to whether JetBlue’s departure could increase fares for travel to New York City, Jurkovich said he’d heard more from Nashvillians about the high cost of Nashville-Atlanta fares. In September of last year, Regalado told The City Paper that the authority was looking to recruit airlines to serve that route.
American Airlines and Delta Air Lines currently fly non-stop between Nashville and New York City, according to the MNAA. New York City is the most popular destination from the Nashville Airport, followed by Chicago and Los Angeles, Richards said.
JetBlue’s 15 local employees will have the option to either transfer to other markets, or to accept severance packages, Eshelman said. The Nashville-area facility of Embraer Aircraft Maintenance Services Inc., will continue to service a portion of JetBlue’s Embraer vehicles, even after the airline’s Nashville gate closes, Eshelman added.