IN FOCUS: Introduction issues see airlines turn to tried and tested aircraft

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Introducing aircraft into a fleet is a complex affair, leading many airlines to take delivery of new types later in their production lives

JetBlue Airways' new Embraer 190s were in service for less than three months before there were issues. The aircraft had lower dispatch reliability rates than the carrier's Airbus A320 fleet, and utilisation was well below the target of 14h per day anticipated prior to the E190's launch in November 2005.

The E190 service launch "hasn't been up to what we thought we could do", New York-based JetBlue's then chief executive David Neeleman told analysts in January 2006. The airline reported a completion factor in 2005 of 98.4% for the aircraft - compared with 99.6% for its A320s - and utilisation of only 8.1h per day.

It appears JetBlue might simply have suffered overambitious entry-into-service expectations for the E190. Other early operators of the type said none of the issues they experienced were beyond the usual glitches associated with new aircraft. The issues were ultimately rectified. However, lessons can be learned from JetBlue's experience when it comes to launching a new type of aircraft.

Robert Crandall, chairman and chief executive of American Airlines parent AMR from 1985 to 1998, says airlines need to be aware there will be a trade-off in terms of performance when taking an early production model of a new type versus a later production model.

"The first generation of whatever it is - Boeing 777, McDonnell Douglas MD-80, Boeing 787 - won't be as good as the second generation," he says.

Introducing a new aircraft at an airline requires an entire ecosystem of functions. These range from flight operations to crew scheduling and training, as well as maintenance, regardless of whether it is a completely new type - for example Lufthansa with the Airbus A380 or Boeing 747-8 - or an existing type that is new to an airline's fleet, such as American's upcoming introduction of the A320 family.

"It's an end-to-end examination of the new airplane, what it'll do, how it will fit with the existing facilities, training all the people," says Crandall.

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