While airlines worldwide are struggling to survive the COVID19 pandemic which has nearly brought the industry to its knees, a new carrier is planning to launch scheduled service in 2021 with Minneapolis-St. Paul as its operations center.
This may sound like some kind of insanity destined for failure, but then you probably haven’t been following the incredible career of David Neeleman, whose Breeze Aviation Group Inc. is behind the exciting startup airline.
My first (and only) direct contact with Neeleman came in the early 1980’s when he was a young executive with Morris Travel in Salt Lake City, his hometown. At the time, Morris and ITA (International Travel Arrangers), a St. Paul-based charter operator where I was Marketing Director, were sharing AirCal aircraft for each company’s respective Las Vegas tour programs. ITA operated flights four days a week, and Morris two other days, making for a mutually beneficial relationship.
Over the years Neeleman grew the Morris Travel charter program into a very large and successful operation, creating Morris Air in the process. Morris was eventually sold to Southwest Airlines, and was a key part of the Dallas-based airline’s expansion into the Western U.S.
Since those days Neeleman has catipulted into a major global airline star, probably known best for his creation of jetBlue, a JFK-based carrier that has become synonymous with attractive fares, free inflight entertainment and wifi access, and an all-around excellent passenger experience. JetBlue is new to MSP, at this time only offering service between the Twin Cities and its Boston hub. However, the airline has grown exponentially with service across the continent, to the Caribbean, Cancun, Central and South America. Service to London is expected to begin next year from New York.
Neeleman has also used his magic touch to found Brazilian carrier, Azul, and was instrumental in the survival and expansion of TAP Air Portugal. He recently sold his stake back to the Portuguese Government. Breeze had planned to start service this year but that plan has been pushed back several months into 2021 due to the coronavirus. By purchasing the operating certificate of Compass Airlines which recently ceased flying but was based in the Twin Cities, it is expected that regulatory approval will be accelerated. Compass had been a regional carrier for Delta and American Airlines.
Breeze initially plans service to about 15 cities in the Midwest, Texas, south and along the east coast. Its fleet of six A220’s to be delivered new, and 15 Embraer E190 jets will be focused on serving routes that have been cut by the major carriers. While Breeze will base its operations at MSP, the corporate headquarters is expected to be in Salt Lake City.