JetBlue CEO calls for air traffic control reform

BOSTON Fri Sep 23, 2011 5:22am EDT

The Aircraft Situation Display, with each red mark indicating one aircraft over U.S. airspace, is pictured at the FAA's Air Traffic Control System Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, December 19, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing

The Aircraft Situation Display, with each red mark indicating one aircraft over U.S. airspace, is pictured at the FAA's Air Traffic Control System Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, December 19, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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BOSTON (Reuters) - The chief executive of JetBlue Airways Corp (JBLU.O) said the United States needs to reform its air traffic control systems to prevent waste and improve mobility in the skies.

"Improving the next-generation air traffic control system, this isn't optional," CEO David Barger told Boston College's Chief Executives' Club on Thursday. "This is imperative."

Prop planes in the 1950s flew from Boston to New York in less than an hour, Barger said. Today, the official airline guide logs that flight, in a jet, at about an hour and 35 minutes, he said.

"Think about that, how crazy it is. And we just kind of accept it," he said. "Think of how much we're wasting through not investing upstairs."

Barger said he expects the impact of Hurricane Irene, which hammered the eastern United States late last month, to reduce JetBlue's profit by $7 million to $8 million in the third quarter. Analysts expect pre-tax profit of $60.78 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

JetBlue does not expect United Technologies Corp's (UTX.N) plan to acquire aircraft parts supplier Goodrich Corp GR.N to have much effect on aircraft pricing, Barger said.

"These are two great companies who will be together, and we don't believe it will have any impact on prices," he said.

The airline industry is struggling to recover from a years-long downturn that has been exacerbated by high fuel costs and an economic crisis that sapped travel demand. In response, airlines have reduced the number of seats available for sale, cut costs and consolidated.

JetBlue said at a recent conference that it is helped by a solid balance sheet and low cost structure, and it sees the opportunity for international partnerships.

The company has deferred the purchase of eight Airbus A320 aircraft from 2014 and 2015 to 2017 and converted 30 A320 aircraft scheduled for delivery between 2013 and 2016 to A321s.

The low-cost carrier, which has historically relied on leisure travellers for growth, is increasingly seeking to penetrate the corporate travel market by offering refundable fares and speedier check-in. (Reporting by Toni Clarke; editing by John Wallace)

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