Neeleman’s Azul Adds Jobs as Fleet Grows While Rivals Shrink

Azul Linhas Aereas Brasileiras SA, the Brazilian airline startup founded by David Neeleman, plans to hire about 300 flight-crew members this year as its fleet expands while competitors retrench.

Rising traffic at Brazil’s third-biggest domestic carrier will let Azul add 12 new planes this year, Neeleman, the founder of U.S. carrier JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU), told reporters today in Sao Paulo. Closely held Azul serves mostly secondary airports, compared with rivals flying between the busiest destinations.

“If our competitors aren’t growing, it is because they’re doing things differently from us,” said Neeleman, 52. “In the areas we fly to, cities that haven’t had regular airline service for a long time, there’s no drop in demand, it remains strong.”

Azul’s new planes and people follow through on Neeleman’s December prediction that the Sao Paulo-based airline would expand when Tam SA (TAMM4) and Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA (GOLL4), Brazil’s biggest carriers, had to pull back. Both have cut their forecast for growth in 2012 seating capacity as demand softens.

Last month, Gol fired 131 flight crew and eliminated 80 of its 900 daily flights to ensure a “flight-crew size that’s in line with the company’s operational needs,” according to an e- mailed statement.

Azul is seeking approval from Brazil’s aviation regulator, known as Anac, begin flights to 10 new domestic destinations, said Neeleman, whose Brazilian birth allows him to own an airline in the country in compliance with local law. A temporary route to Punta del Este, in neighboring Uruguay, will open at year’s end, Neeleman said.

The airline’s fleet now consists of 54 planes, chiefly regional jets from Brazil’s Embraer SA. (EMBR3) Azul will receive 20 new aircraft this year and return eight leased planes, Neeleman said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jose Sergio Osse in Sao Paulo at josse1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Helder Marinho hmarinho@bloomberg.net

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