|By Jason Garcia, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 24, 2008 - JetBlue Airways Corp. has canceled plans to build a nearly 300-room employee lodge at Orlando International Airport, a cost-cutting move that comes as it and other airlines fight for survival amid unprecedented fuel costs.
Company spokesman Bryan Baldwin said Friday that the company could simply not afford the lodge's roughly $30 million cost at a time when oil prices have risen above $130 a barrel -- more than double the price of a year ago.
"With the environment we're in today, we need to preserve liquidity as an airline," Baldwin said.
Airline officials had said for months that they intended to press forward with the lodge, which had been plagued by delays since a much-publicized public "groundbreaking" in June 2006. Two months ago, at a ceremony christening Orlando as a JetBlue "focus city," company Chief Executive Officer Dave Barger said he hoped to begin construction by this summer.
But the airline's fuel bill, which was already climbing at the time, has only continued to escalate. Oil prices have set repeated records this year, driving several smaller airlines out of business altogether.
Baldwin said JetBlue this week informed the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which runs OIA, and InterContinentalHotels Group, which had signed on to operate the lodge, that it had decided to abort the project.
Despite the setback, Baldwin said the airline's commitment to Orlando had not changed. The airline will still perform national employee training at its "JetBlue University" facility at OIA -- with trainees staying at area hotels -- and also intends to continue adding flights to and from Central Florida.
"Even without the lodge, nothing else changes," he said. "This doesn't change our plans for Orlando as a focus city."
Airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell said the airport was disappointed in the development, as officials have emphasized commercial-property development around OIA. But she was also sympathetic.
"Their decision is a business decision," she said. "And in the current environment, it's understandable."
Jason Garcia can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5414.
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