New York-based JetBlue is marking its 10th year of service in Puerto Rico by investing $3 million to move into its own terminal facility at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport this summer. And although the carrier is not officially calling its local operation a hub, its 40 daily flights, and counting, have made it Puerto Rico’s dominant carrier.
In a meeting with members of the local media, JetBlue’s Manager of Group Sales, Chad Meyerson, confirmed that with the addition this week of its 13th destination from San Juan to the Palm Beach International Airport in Florida and the fall start of its direct flight to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport are fueling the carrier’s goal of ongoing growth in this market.
“We’re not only looking at new routes, but we’re also looking to increase the routes we already have by adding new frequencies,” said Meyerson, flanked by high-ranking government officials, namely Economic Development and Commerce Secretary José Pérez-Riera, agency Deputy Secretary Jaime López and Tourism Co. Executive Director Luis Rivera Marín.
While the new connection between San Juan and West Palm Beach will serve to bring together two communities with strong business ties, the Washington route will mark the first time in many years that Puerto Rico will have a direct flight available to travel to the nation’s capital. The carrier will provide the latter flight on a 150-seat A320 aircraft, Meyerson said.
“The West Palm Beach flight represent a great meeting of two great destinations,” said Jorge Pesquera, CEO at Palm Beach County Convention & Visitors Bureau, and former head of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau. “The West Palm Beach flight will be successful because we both have very important business community. This also opens the door for increased activity in that sense.”
JetBlue’s incursion into the popular Florida destination received strong backing from the local government, particularly via the Tourism Co., which will be launching an advertising campaign to the destination, Rivera Marín said.
“I want to stress the Tourism Company’s support of JetBlue, to continue helping them add new routes and destinations that will bring more visitors to our shores and that will result in economic benefits across all sectors,” he said.
Moving into new home
This summer, JetBlue will move into LMM’s long-vacant Terminal A, which has required a significant investment to bring it up to the carrier’s standards. Still absent from that terminal is a security checkpoint, which Meyerson said will not prevent it from going forward.
“Our goal is to have all of our local and international flights at the terminal, which is what makes most sense, and we’re working closely with those who make decisions at U.S. Customs Federal Inspections Services toward that goal,” he said. “But in the meantime, we’ll be able to accommodate passengers from our six international flights in Terminal C.”
JetBlue employs some 300 people in Puerto Rico and between March 2011 and March 2012, flew 2.6 million passengers from the island to its stateside and Caribbean destinations.
Strong backer of P3 process
“We’ve played a big role in this process and its important for JetBlue to have a say on that issue because it’s not just about the LMM’s growth, but also about our commitment to the island, which also includes our operations in Ponce and Aguadilla,” Meyerson said.
JetBlue was one several LMM tenants that approved the government’s proposed public-private partnership for the airport, which should be announced by summer. The selection process that began in July 2011 has been narrowed down to two consortia.
“Throughout the entire P3 process, JetBlue has continued to grow. If we were under the impression that this process was not going to benefit us, we would not continue to expand. We trust in this process,” he said.
Looking forward, the executive said JetBlue will continue pursuing new stateside markets with high Puerto Rican populations, as well as the rest of the Caribbean, for which it uses slightly smaller planes given that some regional airports have shorter runways.
Meanwhile, Pérez-Riera said the government will continue working with the carrier, “focusing on anything that can benefit the local economy. The more ties and connections we can establish with principal cities, the better.”
“This is what brings economic development and through which opportunities arrive to Puerto Rico, and we find opportunities abroad. If we have the physical, social and corporate infrastructure in place, airlines will arrive,” he said.