If you trust the visibility report from the cockpit, you probably saw this coming. Wall Street darling JetBlue (NASDAQ:JBLU) is starting to show signs of mortality. Engaged in a sharp descent since peaking in October, it's becoming clear that even in the stodgy airline sector, there is no company nimble enough to avoid being copied.

Discounted carriers running light in terms of overhead cargo are starting to clog the formerly friendly skies, and while that's great news for you as a traveler, it's not a welcome event for JetBlue. The edgy airline is blaming the California wildfires, in part, for a dip in operating margins, but we all know that it's the popularity of discounting rivals that's really heating up.

As unfortunate as the Southern California blazes were, they actually didn't make much of a dent as the company's load factor last month rose to 81.6% from a 79.3% showing a year ago. Yes, the fires were pretty much a late October event, under control as the month started, but if you still see smoke it, just might be the company trying to throw off the damaging impact of its fellow low-cost carriers.

Just as Southwest (NYSE:LUV) flew circles around the competition with its familiar fleet of 737s and frills-free flying, JetBlue upped the ante with perks like leather seats and live satellite television. Because it was essentially starting from scratch, it was able to avoid the costly infrastructure of the major carriers.

But succeeding, with profitability in a sector grounded with deficits, proved to be the beacons that lit up the landing strip for the competition. Delta (NYSE:DAL) launched its hip Song upstart, and others like Spirit and AirTran (NYSE:AAI) have been quick to offer bargain fares to thrifty travelers.

AirTran's penchant for a flexible multitasking workforce produced labor costs that ran just 29% of the carrier's operating expenses last year. Southwest, on the other hand, was at 39%.

That doesn't mean JetBlue is doomed. Far from it. The company's capacity, as measured by available seat miles, has grown by 53% over the past year. However, it does mean that the competition can no longer be ignored. Everyone knows that the key to making a business model fly in the airline sector these days is to offer low fares on a low-cost structure. It's not rocket science.

Well, actually, I guess it is.

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