Troubled JetBlue Airways ( JBLU), in a major strategic shift, says it's going back to its roots -- or is that routes? -- starting with service to Jacksonville, Fla., and Pittsburgh. The airline said Friday that it will begin service to both cities in June. JetBlue will serve Jacksonville from its hub at New York's Kennedy International Airport and Pittsburgh from both Boston and Kennedy. JetBlue wants to return to its original plan to serve mostly midsized cities from Kennedy, "to go back to the beginnings before we got enamored with all this capacity to Florida and East-West," CEO David Neeleman said this week at a Citibank investment conference in Las Vegas. When it began flying early in 2000, JetBlue produced a list of 44 target cities, most served from New York by legacy carriers charging high fares for business travel. The list included Akron and Canton, Ohio; Charlotte, N.C.; Greensboro, N.C.; Indianapolis and Nashville. "We don't serve them all," Neeleman said Tuesday. "There are 10 to 15 cities where we know we will be successful." Neeleman said at the time an announcement would be made Friday regarding the plan. After 18 consecutive profitable quarters, JetBlue lost money in the fourth quarter of 2005 and said it will lose money again this year. The airline has been plagued recently by high fuel costs, poor on-time performance and problems with the addition of Embraer 190s, its second aircraft type. Previously, JetBlue had been flying only Airbus passenger jets. Neeleman said that JetBlue's focus on transcontinental flying has made it particularly vulnerable to fuel-cost increases. "Fuel prices kind of caught up to us," he said. "We started flying these long-haul flights, but when you have a run-up in fuel prices, those markets are more affected." While much has changed in the airline industry since 2000, JetBlue spokesman Bryan Baldwin said Friday that the airline believes a majority of the cities on its original list can still be profitable.
"Many of the original 44 possible destinations were close to New York -- in the Northeast, along the East Coast and in the Midwest," Baldwin said. "With the high cost of fuel, longer
transcontinental flights are very expensive, so these kinds of routes are looking more attractive." Neeleman insisted that JetBlue remains committed to its high-growth strategy, and he said the number of Kennedy departures will double by the end of 2008. He said JetBlue will gain access to seven new gates at Kennedy this June, and that new gates will become available at the end of 2008 when the airline opens a new terminal. "They don't give up, do they? For now, they are continuing their expansion program," airline analyst Ray Neidl of Calyon Securities said Friday. "But at some point, they will have to get back to profitability if they want to sustain this rapid growth." Staring June 30, JetBlue will serve Pittsburgh with four daily flights to its Kennedy hub and two daily flights to Boston, using new Embraer 190s seating 100 passengers. A ticket from Pittsburgh to New York will range between $64 and $129 each way, while the Pittsburgh to Boston fare range is $74 to $139. The airline will offer three daily flights between Kennedy and Jacksonville, starting June 15 with Airbus A-320 jets and fares between $89 and $299 each way. Also, earlier this week, JetBlue said it will begin service June 30 between Boston and Buffalo using the Embraer 190s. JetBlue's original list of 44 cities included, among others: Atlanta; Boston; Buffalo, N.Y.; Burlington, Vt.; Charleston, S.C.; Chicago; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Flint, Mich.; Louisville, Ky.; Norfolk, Va.; and Portland, Maine.