Neeleman’s Azul to Serve U.S. With Wide-Body Airbus Jets

Azul Linhas Aereas Brasileiras SA, the short-haul airline started by JetBlue Airways Corp. founder David Neeleman, is joining the crowded battle for Brazilians who want to fly to the U.S.

Service to Florida will begin in 2015 as the carrier adds six wide-body Airbus Group NV A330-200s under lease, Azul said today, without specifying a destination. In 2017, the Campinas, Brazil-based carrier will get its first of five deliveries of new A350-900s.

Azul’s expansion, representing a $2 billion investment, will pit the airline against incumbents that include Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA, Latam Airlines Group SA and American Airlines Group Inc. They’re vying for business among the 40 million new members of Brazil’s middle class elevated from poverty over the past decade.

“We know this market is going to grow a lot,” Neeleman, 54, told reporters today in Campinas. “We’ll go where Brazilians want to go.”

Azul started flying in 2008. Its first U.S. destinations probably will be Fort Lauderdale and Orlando in Florida, followed by New York, Neeleman said. Additional flights to the U.S. and Europe are likely to follow, he said.

The long-haul service will be a break from Azul’s focus on domestic destinations -- it now has 104 in Brazil -- and its reliance on Embraer SA regional jets and smaller turboprops. The A330 is a workhorse on foreign routes, where Airbus is betting on success for the new A350 as deliveries start this year.

Gol Challenge

Azul’s closest competitor is Sao Paulo-based Gol, which has been expanding its international network and adding overseas marketing agreements to boost its U.S. dollar income. Jet fuel is priced in dollars, and a slump in Brazil’s real in 2013 crimped Gol’s Brazil-centered operations.

Gol’s flights to Florida now stop in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and the airline announced on April 11 that it would start flying from Campinas to Miami. Campinas’s Viracopos airport is Azul’s hub and the departure point for its international flights.

Azul is in talks with New York-based JetBlue about a so-called code-sharing agreement that would let each carrier book travelers on the other’s flights, Neeleman said.

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