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Airline Deals Boost JetBlue Growth

(JetBlue story updated with closing stock price and March traffic numbers)

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In trying to pick the biggest winners in the current round of airline industry deal-making, JetBlue (JBLU - Get Report) should not be overlooked.

In the 10 years since the airline began flying, JetBlue has made itself the biggest domestic airline at two key Northeast airports, New York Kennedy and Boston Logan. Now the iconoclastic carrier is moving aggressively to operate and expand at Washington Reagan National airport, the most convenient airport in the nation's capital and arguably in the entire country, given its proximity to mass transit.
Jet Blue

Investors took notice of the carrier Tuesday, when it reported that March revenue per available seat mile rose 17%. Shares in JetBlue closed Tuesday at $6.35, up 47 cents or about 8%.

Currently, two major deals are underway in the airline industry, both offering side benefits for JetBlue. Last month, after regulators objected to a slot swap proposed by Delta (DAL - Get Report) and US Airways (LCC), the two carriers offered to divest some slots at National and New York LaGuardia to four low-fare carriers. The group includes JetBlue, which would get nine slots at National. Slots are assigned takeoff and landing times, necessary to operate at congested airports.

Also last month, American (AMR) and JetBlue announced they would team up at Kennedy, enabling travelers to connect between JetBlue domestic flights and American international flights. JetBlue also exchanged Kennedy slots for eight slot pairs at National, where it plans to offer eight daily departures starting in November.

A few other plusses for JetBlue: Passengers could connect between American and JetBlue flights at Logan. JetBlue announced it has petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration for access to unused slots at National in the early evening and late evening; with a single slot to augment the nine slots it would get from US Airways, it could offer five daily round-trip flights.

Additionally, following a Oneworld board meeting last week in Los Angeles, American CEO Gerard Arpey said he "wouldn't be surprised to see many of [the Oneworld] partners talking to JetBlue as well." These moves could enhance JetBlue revenue without adding significant costs.

Of course, the airline industry is currently focused on other merger possibilities, and here again JetBlue could emerge a winner. If United (UAUA) does merge with US Airways, it is likely that regulators would require divestiture at National, since the two carriers have dominant positions at both Washington airports. United operates a hub at Dulles, while US Airways operates 47% of the seat capacity at National, a share that would increase if the slot trade with Delta is approved.
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