Queens borough president urges Port Authority to act in keeping JetBlue in Long Island City

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards continues to work towards keeping JetBlue in Long Island City. (QNS file photo)

In the ongoing efforts to keep the JetBlue corporate headquarters grounded in Long Island City, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards recently met with the airline’s executives and followed that with a letter to the Port Authority.

During that meeting, Richards learned a lease extension at JFK International Airport would discourage JetBlue from abandoning its plans to move its base of operations to Florida when its current lease in Queensboro Plaza expires in 2023.

And in his letter to Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton, Richards wrote that a potential move to Florida by JetBlue is “alarming news for our borough, our economy,” and the families of the employees who work at the Long Island City headquarters.

“In discussions, I understand that JetBlue and their development partners, JFK Millennial Partners, has not been extended the same 10-year lease agreement and concessions for their project,” Richards wrote to Cotton on June 10. “JetBlue Airways wants to maintain their company profile as a low-cost airline, something that might prove difficult if they are forced to compete with market-rate airlines.”

Richards went on to say JetBlue is a “good corporate citizen,” and Queens wants it to remain an anchor company in Long Island City.

“Their Long Island City employees support the neighborhood businesses, and their presence has been an advantage for the borough and the city in every conceivable way,” Richards’ letter read.

In March, Richards began urging JetBlue CEO Robin Harris to keep New York’s “hometown airline” in the borough after an internal memo to employees divulged that the company was considering its options to move to Florida.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and members of the Queens Congressional delegation joined the effort within days, urging Harris to stay in Long Island City and saying a potential move could affect 1,300 corporate workers and another 7,000 JetBlue employees who report to work at various New York locations including LaGuardia and JFK airports.

The budget air carrier was created in Forest Hills in 1998 and has headquartered in Long Island City since 2012.

“We’ve called New York home for more than 20 years and are proud to be the only passenger airline based here,” a JetBlue spokesperson said in March. “Our current lease in Long Island City expires in July 2023. We are now reviewing our options in the current real estate market and considering how our space requirements may evolve in a hybrid work environment post-pandemic.”

QNS reached out to JetBlue for new comment and is waiting for their response.

Richards noted in his letter that the city had negotiated and extended JFK Airport’s ground lease for an additional ten years through 2060.

“The lease extension should benefit all airport companies, as it will help airport companies and developers secure financing, and continue the airport’s modernization in the redevelopment,” wrote Richards, adding that JetBlue has made significant investments in the city as a whole, in Long Island City and at JFK’s Terminal 5.

The Port Authority has not offered a comment on Richards’ letter to Cotton, but the Queens Chamber of Commerce is hoping it helps keep the airline based in the borough.

“We appreciate the borough president’s efforts to keep jobs in Queens,” Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech said. “JetBlue has long been a valued member of our business community. We hope that all of the stakeholders can come together to ensure that they keep their corporate headquarters here.”