JetBlue delays delivery of 21 new planes

We're barely into June, and 2008 has already been a shaky year for JetBlue, marked by questionable new policies, new fees, a first-quarter loss of roughly $8 million, and arguably a sense that the low-cost darling is becoming just another airline. Now comes news that 21 new Airbus A320 jets scheduled for delivery between 2009 and 2011 will be pushed back to 2014 and 2015.

What are fans of the airline to make of this? It all depends on your perspective. If you want JetBlue to be standing on steady, if not profitable, footing, the move is probably a good one. CEO David Barger put it simply, saying, "In the face of escalating fuel costs, we believe it is essential to take a more financially conservative approach to managing our business." Instead of flooding its fleet with nearly two dozen new planes sucking down jet fuel at $171 a barrel (and rising), JetBlue seems willing to work with what it has for the time being.

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On the other hand, this move would seem to preclude any (or most) growth in the coming years. Without new aircraft, new routes may be slow coming, a change in approach for an airline that has expanded quickly over the years. Wall Street didn't like the move, but again, it depends on how you look at things. Wall Street investors may not fly JetBlue, but travelers hoping for new destinations are likely shaking their heads today.

But hang on a second, because there's one more wrinkle to this story. JetBlue has also proposed offering $160 million in "Convertible Debentures," presumably to build a cash cushion for the foreseeable future. (Don't feel bad if you don't know what that means, I had to look it up: According to Webster's, a debenture is "A bond backed by the general credit of the issuer rather than a specific lien on particular assets").

Now, I admit I'm not a professional economic analyst, but the airline appears to be in fair shape financially (an $8 million quarterly loss isn't bad these days), so acquiring cash and postponing additional expenses seem to fall in line with Barger's desire for a "conservative" approach. If JetBlue can find some solid ground in this economy, even at the expense of a widening route network today, that should be a good thing no matter what, right?

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