This morning the airline known as
, which is scheduled to begin service out of JFK in January, held a news conference to announce that it's now officially named
Now, I ask you, does JetBlue sound like the name of a
-capitalized airline headed up by a devout Mormon? To me, it sounds more like something Austin Powers would fly. Yeah, baby, ride that JetBlue!
I'm still in a bit of shock. This news just isn't quite what I'd expected.
But forget the
name for a moment. Who are these guys anyway? And even with bags of George Soros' money providing a nice $130 million initial capitalization, do they stand a chance? I think they do.
Not too long ago, I had a chance to talk to John Owen, CFO of the new start-up. Many of you may recall that John is the former executive vice president and treasurer for
. There's no doubt that John is very well respected on the Street because of his years with Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher and the folks in Dallas. And, when John left his rather cushy position at Southwest last year to take the job with David Neeleman's new airline, it got my attention.
Before we go any further, David Neeleman is the
behind New Air -- make that JetBlue. Neeleman also was the marketing genius behind
, a small airline that Southwest purchased a little more than five years ago. How do I know it was a little more than five years ago? Because Kelleher was so respectful of Neeleman's talent he forced Neeleman to sign a five-year noncompete clause as part of the Southwest-Morris Air deal. Tells you something, no?
So, because he couldn't actively play with airlines for awhile, Neeleman went off and started a company called
, which eventually became a solid, if not small, player in the airline-revenue-management arena. Neeleman also was somewhat involved in the start-up of
(WJA.TO:Toronto) -- another Southwest clone we're very high on that's presently crippling
(CA.TO:Toronto) in western Canada. (WestJet just went public on Tuesday.)
Neeleman sold Open Skies last year to
for a nice chunk of change, and with the five years on his noncompete fast coming to a close, what else could he do but put together a new airline?
From what I can tell, this start-up has some very positive things going for it. For starters, picking and choosing from some of the best, Neeleman assembled an all-star management team: John Owen came over from Southwest; David Barger, former head of
wildly successful Newark hub-building exercise, is the company's president; and Ann Rhoades, who had worked previously as senior vice president of people for Southwest Airlines, is heading up the human resources team.
In addition, Neeleman has understood from the start that he needs to get the New York political machine behind his effort, and he's been very successful at doing so. The airline is already working with the political powers-that-be, along with the
, on a number of ideas to make access to the airport easier for passengers. If Neeleman has anything to do with it, don't be surprised to see an unused piece of railroad line that runs between JFK and the Jamaica Long Island Railroad Station reactivated.
So, what's the concept behind JetBlue?
Simple. Think Southwest Airlines. But instead of
737s, JetBlue will fly new
A320 aircraft on short, point-to-point segments. No long-haul flights. The airline will use a state-of-the-art revenue management system and reservation software, which among other things will allow it to know immediately what the company's yield and revenue figures are on a particular flight as soon as the door of that flight is closed. (Ah, the Open Skies connection.)
As for the hassles of flying from JFK, think about this: JetBlue isn't going to get you investment-banker types who never see the price of your airline ticket to trek to JFK for a flight to Washington, D.C. What it's aiming for -- and should get -- is the small-business owner for whom the cost of the ticket is a major issue, plus a good percentage of leisure traffic.
My big question to John Owen was,
What about the delays at JFK? How can you hope to run a Southwest-type operation with the congestion that's present there?
John explained that the airline had already had discussions with the
Federal Aviation Administration
and air traffic control officials about which flight paths are clogged, when they're clogged and for how long.
Here's the secret. If JetBlue isn't flying transcontinental or transatlantic flights -- which it won't be -- it can use flight paths that are available for aircraft at almost all times. As John said to me, "Holly, JFK is really busy only two times during the day. At those times, we still have an advantage because we won't be using the traditional flight paths when we take off and land. But, for the rest of the time, you can practically bowl down the runways at JFK. Crowding and congestion won't be a problem."
We like what we hear. We like the people that Neeleman has assembled. We like the business plan and strategy. We like the fact that the airline has bent over backwards to work with the established political machine. And, who can complain about the initial capitalization? It will be the largest capitalization of any new airline start-up that I can recall.
Baby, we're JetBlue converts.
Movers and Shakers
Just a heads-up. Shares of
were up a hefty 25% last week and posted a 19% gain in Tuesday trading. What's up? We're not sure. Vanguard has been susceptible to run-ups in the past, and this latest one has occurred on the back of some very light volume days, which is a bit odd. The airline has admitted it's contemplating moving its headquarters from Kansas City to Chicago's Midway Airport -- if Midway officials will give it more gate and counter space. But we think there may be more to this proposed move to Chicago than the airline is letting on.
Speaking of movers and shakers, for those of you who are wondering where part two of our second-quarter review is, have no fear. We'll post the rest of our second-quarter musings and meditations for the sector tomorrow.
Holly Hegeman, based in Dallas, pilots the Wing Tips column for TheStreet.com. At time of publication, Hegeman held no positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. You can usually find Hegeman, publisher of PlaneBusiness Banter, buzzing around her airline industry Web site at www.planebusiness.com. While she cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, she welcomes your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.