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Neeleman's new airline Breeze targets May launch, with the JetBlue founder planning coast-to-coast flights

July 10, 2020
4 min read
Neeleman's new airline Breeze targets May launch, with the JetBlue founder planning coast-to-coast flights
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Travelers may begin flying on David Neeleman's new airline Breeze Airways next May as the start-up maps plans to serve "fly-over country" before entering the competitive fray flying coast-to-coast.

Salt Lake City-based Breeze will starting carrying passengers on regularly scheduled flights in May 2021, under a plan submitted to U.S. authorities on Friday. Embraer E190s will operate those early flights, with new Airbus A220-300s joining the fleet from August 2021.

The airline's initial service plan calls for flights to 15 cities on the East Coast and in the Midwest, South and Texas. Routes will "connect areas of the country known by the pejorative term 'fly-over country.'"

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Breeze is the latest venture from serial-airline entrepreneur Neeleman. His previous carriers include Azul in Brazil, JetBlue Airways, Morris Air and WestJet in Canada.

The launch of Breeze, previously known as Moxy, comes as the airline industry continues to be decimated by the coronavirus pandemic. Despite recent increases in screening numbers, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) continues to screen only about a quarter of the number of people that it did last year. Many are warning that the travel recovery is plateauing amid rising COVID-19 infections and new travel restrictions.

Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have both pulled some of their planned August flight additions, and Delta CEO Ed Bastian told staff on July 9 that they expect a "lengthy and slow" recovery ahead.

Related: When will airlines return to normal? Likely even longer than we thought.

“With COVID and other airlines’ expansion, I’m pretty bearish on the fall,” Sun Country Airlines CEO Jude Bricker told TPG at the beginning of July.

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Breeze has adapted its launch to the crisis. Its first scheduled passenger flight was postponed to 2021 from the end of this year earlier in July. In addition, it had axed a deal to lease 28 E195s from Azul signed in February -- just before the pandemic -- for "significantly better terms" on 15 E190s from leasing firm Nordic Aviation Capital.

Arguably more importantly, the pandemic created the opportunity for Breeze to acquire the operating certificate of Compass Airlines. Acquiring an operating certificate is a critical step in the launch of any new airline as without one they cannot carry passengers. This process can take years, though if anyone could do it quickly it is Neeleman, who has gone through the steps multiple times.

Related: JetBlue founder’s new airline Breeze delays launch to 2021

Compass shut down in April with the early termination of its flying contract with American Airlines. The carrier was the second U.S. regional after Trans States Airlines to fall victim to the pandemic. Both Compass and Trans States Airlines were owned by Trans States Holdings.

There are still a lot of details Breeze needs to work out. First and foremost, the U.S. Department of Transportation needs to sign off on its acquisition of Compass' certificate. After that it needs to train crews, finalize a route map and begin selling tickets into what is likely to be a very competitive market.

Breeze executives have previously said that the airline will rely heavily on technology to improve the customer experience.

Related: Neeleman’s new airline Breeze to first fly routes in eastern U.S.

Down the road, Breeze plans to offer nonstop flights between the East Coast and California with its A220s from around Oct. 2021. This is a market JetBlue successfully entered under Neeleman in 2001 but also one that has grown more crowded and competitive in the decades since.

Prior to beginning scheduled flights, Breeze plans to begin limited charter operations from Compass' former Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) base from October. This will allow it to familiarize crews before the carrier begins carrying regular passengers.

However, Breeze will face competition from Minneapolis-based Sun Country. The hometown carrier flies both charter and scheduled passenger operations.

Delta also maintains one of its core U.S. domestic hubs in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Executives have said the airline is committed to the hub following the crisis.

Related: Sun Country eyes future growth even as it braces for tough fall

Featured image by A rendering of an Embraer E195 in the planned livery for start-up carrier Breeze Airways. (Image courtesy of Breeze Airways.)