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Wed, Sep 12, 2007

Upgraded: COO Chew Named President At JetBlue

Airline Hopes His Ops Experience Will Speed Rebound

There are more changes at the top to report for beleaguered low-cost carrier JetBlue Airways, as it struggles to rebound from a particularly trouble-plagued winter season.

The airline announced this week Russ Chew (right), who was brought on in March as Chief Operation Officer, has been appointed president to assist with CEO Dave Barger's "vision and strategic plan" for the airline.

As ANN reported, Barger replaced the popular David Neeleman, JetBlue's founder, as CEO in May.

Neeleman's handling of the storm-related breakdown of the airline's operating schedule earlier this year had come under increasingly heated criticism, and investors weren't happy as they watched JetBlue stock prices plumment.

So far this year, JetBlue shares have fallen more than 30 percent, according to The Associated Press.

While the carrier has largely regained its favorable public perception since the schedule meltdown, that saw over 1,000 flights cancelled over a weeklong period in February... overall traffic numbers remain lower compared to one year ago.

Industry analyst Ray Neidl says the airline is counting on Chew -- the former Chief Operating Officer and Chairman of the Air Traffic Organization at the FAA, and before that an executive at American Airlines parent company AMR -- to bring gravitas to Barger's planned reorganization of the airline.

"It's no surprise that they put him in a key role," Neidl, an analyst with Calyon Securities, told the AP in a phone interview. He added Chew is a "good operational guy."

Analyst William Greene with Morgan Stanley isn't as bullish on JetBlue's chances in the short term, however, especially as the carrier faces intense competition against upstart rival Virgin America.

"Our primary near-term concern is the impact of Virgin America's start-up of operations in key JetBlue markets, such as the transcon," Greene wrote. "In addition, the company has struggled to regain the earnings momentum from its turnaround following the operational snafus during President's Day weekend."

Time will tell...

FMI: www.jetblue.com

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