JetBlue Airways is close to receiving its first Airbus A220. The aircraft made its maiden flight in company livery this week, the planemaker revealed on Twitter. The company’s CEO, Robin Hayes, recently said that the first of 70 A220-300 jets will be delivered in December and is due to start service in 2021.

The Airbus model will replace the numerous fleet of 60 E190 aircraft that JetBlue has operated since 2005. Larger than the Brazilian jet, the A220 will be able to carry 140 passengers against 100 Embraer seats. It will also offer greater range and fuel economy.

Despite this, the retirement of the E190 should only be completed in 2025, according to the company’s original plans. With the pandemic, however, this forecast can be revised as the Brazilian plane currently has only half the active fleet while almost all JetBlue’s A320 and A321 are in service, according to Planespotters.

Initially, the A220-300 is expected to take E190 flights in cities such as Boston and New York and may provisionally replace the A320 on certain routes due to the slightly lower seat offer, combined with superior operating economy.

Bitter defeat for Embraer

The choice of the A220 by JetBlue in 2018 was a severe defeat for Embraer, which offered the E195-E2 in competition. Although the Brazilian model was closer to the capacity of the first generation E190 and offered attractive costs, it weighed more versatility of the Airbus aircraft.

JetBlue E190 (Nathan Coats)

According to reports two years ago, JetBlue would have preferred the A220 for enabling nonstop coast-to-coast flights in the U.S., among other reasons. The good reputation of the aircraft originally developed by Bombardier also caught the eye of Neeleman, who later chose it as the main aircraft in his new low-cost Breeze. But unlike JetBlue, the airline will also fly the first generation E-Jets in addition to the A220.

The preference for the A220-300 has been quite clear in recent years. While Embraer has only 151 firm orders for the E195-E2, Airbus already has 541 orders for just the largest variant of the jet. There are 90 planes delivered against nine Embraer models until November.