Bargain airline JetBlue lands at SFO 

Mayor Gavin Newsom says he has done it. So has San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill. You may have, too.

But now that low-cost airline JetBlue has announced that it will start running five flights out of San Francisco International Airport in May, officials hope Bay Area residents will be less likely to cross over to Oakland in search of cheaper flights.

"This is exciting news," Hill said. "San Francisco needs a good discount airline."

The airport has been in talks with the New York-based JetBlue, which also runs flights out of Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport and Oakland International Airport, for months, SFO spokesman Mike McCarron said. Since losing Southwest Airlines in 2001 to Oakland — where it has become that airport’s top airline — SFO has been working to attract other low-cost carriers, including Spirit Airlines, which arrived this summer, and the new Virgin America, which is still seeking federal approval to fly.

"I can’t tell you how pleased I am that all these rumors [about JetBlue] are true," Newsom said.

While business at the Oakland hub is booming, major construction there is hampering JetBlue’s ability to grow past its two gates at that airport, JetBlue CEO David Neeleman said. JetBlue will maintain a presence at Oakland, but SFO provided more opportunities to expand operations, he said.

Neeleman and Airport Director John Martin said the airline’s presence at SFO would be good for the market and for consumers, a sentiment several local officials shared.

"As a consumer and someone interested in new business in this region, I’m very happy to see them here," San Mateo County Economic Development Association Vice President Christine Leslie said. "There is obviously a need that has to be filled."

JetBlue is Oakland International’s second-biggest airline, serving 11 percent of their passengers in 2006, airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said. The airline runs 15 nonstop flights daily out of Oakland, but Barnes was unsure whether JetBlue’s presence at SFO would have a significant impact on their service.

The JetBlue announcement comes on the heels of the federal Department of Transportation’s late-December denial for the Burlingame-based Virgin America.

Virgin America has the support of many local officials, including Newsom, who said that there were discussions just this week about how to grease the wheels for approval.

Virgin America spokesman Gareth Edmondson-Jones said his company is trying to address the DOT’s concerns about foreign control of the airline and hopes to start flying this spring.

"Terrific," Edmondson-Jones said of JetBlue’s arrival. "The more the merrier."

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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