Today’s news:

Forest Hills-based JetBlue expands fleet of planes

The Forest Hills-based discount airline JetBlue, flourishing at a time of financial distress for the airline industry, has ordered 65 new Airbus A320 jetliners along with options for 50 more planes.

The airline also announced a 34 percent increase in first-quarter profits.

The latest jets on order are to be delivered to JetBlue between 2004 and 2011 and they will be in addition to the 41 A320 jets now flying the airline's routes.

“In the post-Sept. 11 environment and the market complexities that have resulted, it is more critical than ever for the hard-hit U.S airline industry to rebound,” said JetBlue CEO David Neeleman.

"The best way for JetBlue to take part in this process is through controlled growth with safe, economical and comfortable aircraft. We’re confident these newly ordered aircraft will continue to please our customers, crew members and investors alike.”

JetBlue also announced that first-quarter profits increased 34 percent with net income of $17.4 million, or earnings of 25 cents per share, compared with a first-quarter 2002 net income of $13 million, or 23 cents per share.

“We’re proud of our continued solid performance this quarter in the midst of a very difficult operating environment,” Neeleman said. “In three short years, we’ve achieved nine quarters of profitability, including five consecutive quarters of double-digit operating margins, earned remarkable loyalty among our customers and grown the JetBlue family to 4,970 crew members.”

JetBlue said its operations in the quarter were hindered by a severe winter in the Northeast including heavy snowfall from the Presidents Day storm that forced cancellation of an entire day’s flights out of John F. Kennedy International Airport, along with many cancellations out of Washington Dulles Airport.

JetBlue plans to begin service between Long Beach, Calif. and Atlanta and Long Beach and Fort Lauderdale on May 8 and between JFK and San Diego, Calif., on June 26.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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