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JetBlue Airways: Can Premium Services Offset High Costs?

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On May 13, 2016, we issued an updated research report on JetBlue Airways Corporation (JBLU - Free Report) , a low-fare, low-cost passenger carrier operating primarily on point-to-point routes.

JetBlue Airways reported better-than-expected earnings per share in the first quarter of 2016. Earnings also increased substantially from the year-ago figure. Results were aided by low fuel costs. Average fuel cost during the reported quarter declined 43%. For the second quarter, the carrier expects fuel costs to be $1.33 per gallon (inclusive of fuel taxes). Passenger revenues, on the other hand, were up 4.9%.

JetBlue received encouraging news from global marketing services firm J.D. Power and Associates in May 2016 pertaining to customer satisfaction. The firm has named JetBlue as the top low-cost carrier for the 12th consecutive year in its annual North American Airline Satisfaction Study.

JetBlue is constantly striving to expand its operations. In Apr 2016, the carrier announced that its plans to expand the premium “Mint” service. The transcontinental service will add popular destinations such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle along the West Coast.

However, an increase in maintenance costs is a major headwind for the company and a large portion of this increase is attributable to higher costs associated with the use of an outdated E190 fleet and CF34 engines. Also, JetBlue has approved a 20% pay hike for the next three years to maintain competitiveness with respect to pilot pay packages. As a result, wage expenses were up 21% annually. Additionally, higher depreciation due to higher IT infrastructure spending and higher landing fees could dent margins.

The global airline industry continues to face challenges from soft economic recovery, which is offsetting the positive impacts of increasing air travel demand in the domestic market. On the other hand, the domestic airline industry faces risks of high fixed expenses and stiff price competition. JetBlue competes with other players like Delta Air Lines, Inc. (DAL - Free Report) , Alaska Air Group, Inc. (ALK - Free Report) and American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL - Free Report) with respect to routes, services, fares, flight schedules, types of aircraft, code-sharing relationships, capacity, in-flight entertainment systems and frequent flyer programs. Additionally, a decline in passenger revenue per available seat mile (PRASM) and operating revenue per available seat mile (RASM) may continue to hurt the stock.

JetBlue Airways currently has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

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