David Neeleman’s new airline, Breeze, just cleared a major hurdle

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The United States’ newest airline is closer than ever to taking off.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved an application for Breeze, a new airline led by JetBlue founder David Neeleman, to begin flying.

The approval, which grants Breeze Aviation Group a formal “Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for Interstate Air Transportation,” gives Breeze one year to begin flying passengers with up to 22 aircraft, although the airline can apply for permission to increase its fleet size.

New airlines must receive economic authority to begin operations from the DOT, as well as separate safety authority from the Federal Aviation Administration, before it can begin selling flights.

While the timing — with the COVID-19 pandemic still well underway — may seem suboptimal to launch a new airline, most industry observers expect a boom in U.S. domestic travel in the second half of 2020 as the new vaccines continue to roll out, and pent up travel demand is unleashed.

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

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Neeleman — who also founded Brazilian airline Azul and was previously a co-owner of TAP Portugal — has previously said that Breeze would focus on point-to-point flights in underserved markets, eschewing the hub-and-spoke model of most major airlines. Breeze also plans to differentiate itself by functioning as a low-cost carrier.

“We’re looking at 500 city pairs,” Neeleman said in 2020, when the airline’s name was announced. “We only need about 50 people on board to cover the operating cost of the airplane. We don’t really have to be in big markets.”

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Breeze plans to reduce costs and expedite its launch by initially leasing 118-seat Embraer E195 jets from Azul. The airline is also in agreement to purchase 60 new Airbus A220-300 jets, which can hold up to 160 passengers. Deliveries were expected to begin in April — it was not immediately clear whether this timeline has been impacted by the pandemic.

The airline will be headquartered in Connecticut, but will locate its operations center in Salt Lake City, according to The Associated Press. Although routes have not been announced, the airline is expected to introduce service along the East Coast.

A representative for the airline told TPG that, pending final certification from the FAA, the airline expects to share its finalized launch plans in the coming weeks.

Featured image courtesy of Breeze Airways.

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