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Braving Brazil's 'Airline Graveyard'

Can JetBlue founder and former CEO David Neeleman find success with his latest venture, a domestic Brazilian airline dubbed Azul?
David Neeleman's new airline, Azul, is scheduled to begin service in January, 2009.
David Neeleman's new airline, Azul, is scheduled to begin service in January, 2009. Getty Images

On May 6, David Neeleman, the 49-year-old founder and former CEO of JetBlue (JBLU), announced the name of his new Brazilian airline: Azul. The name—which means "blue" in Portugese—was one of 157,000 submitted and voted on by Brazilian consumers in an online competition. "We wanted to know what people thought," says Neeleman. "Though at the end of the day, I'm choosing the name." And as it happens, Azul actually came in second to "Samba" in the voting.

The name-picking process reflects Neeleman's belief in listening to customers—as CEO of JetBlue, he flew once a week, just to have the chance to talk to passengers—as well as his confidence in his own instincts, honed over decades in the business. But the airline industry in Brazil is significantly different from the U.S. market, and for Neeleman, who has already founded three successful airlines in North America, Azul is a chance to see whether an innovative JetBlue-like service might take off in this South American country.