Serial aviation entrepreneur David Neeleman had just wrapped up a roundtable with journalists in São José dos Campos, home to Embraer’s commercial aircraft manufacturing in Brazil. It was September 2019. Neeleman was there to talk about Azul Linhas Aéreas (he’s chairman) and its first E195-E2, not his next new airline in the U.S., but it became the center of conversation. Rightly so, they’re linked at birth — a trait Neeleman’s airlines consistently share.
In the shuffle after the discussion, your correspondent remarked to Neeleman: “Given everything you’re planning, it sounds like it’s going to be a breeze.” I was being admittedly cheeky. Neeleman’s airline, at least publicly, was still named Moxy, a placeholder for the final branding. But the final name of the coming carrier was on the wind, so to speak. Neeleman paused for a moment and smiled. “Everyone likes a nice breeze.”
In a way breeze is most fitting, but not as something easy. The gust here is what carries people — and planes — from one Neeleman project to the next. Azul is seeding Breeze Airways, just as JetBlue Airways did for Azul in 2008. “When we started Azul, our first four 190s came from JetBlue. When we started Breeze, our first three 195s came from Azul, as well,” Neeleman said in a recent interview with The Air Current.
The ascent of Neeleman airlines seems to be perennially fueled by crisis, no stranger to being born in a raging storm. JetBlue arrived exactly nineteen months to the day before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. (JetBlue’s inaugural flight to Buffalo, N.Y. featured both New York City’s Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Senator Chuck Schumer — a pairing that sounds politically improbable by 2021 standards.) Azul’s own first flight came weeks after the collapse of the global financial system in 2008. Now Breeze, a project in the making since 2018, will be launching in the worst commercial aviation industry downturn since World War II.
“Obviously I wish COVID wouldn’t have happened, but given that we have COVID, I think the timing couldn’t be better,” said Neeleman who was forced to push back the airline’s launch by about six months. “During the last year and a half, we’ve had kind of a foot on the brake and the gas at the same time.”
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