(Article from Bloomberg) — Brazil’s Azul SA, the airline led by JetBlue Airways Corp. founder David Neeleman, is delaying its expansion to New York to add flights on busy routes to Florida.
“Florida is going exceptionally well,” Gianfranco Panda Beting, Azul’s communication, brand and culture director, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a combination of having a good product, attractive prices and a unique network in Brazil.”
Two leased Airbus Group NV A330-200 jets being delivered to closely held Azul in May will serve Orlando and Fort Lauderdale in Florida instead of going to New York, according to the airline, which has four of those wide-bodies already in use. New York service will still begin this year, Beting said.
Azul, created by Neeleman in 2008 after he left JetBlue, is expanding from its roots as a small-city carrier. With more than 100 domestic destinations, about twice as many as local rivals, Azul seeks to funnel fliers from around Brazil to the international service begun in December 2014 with flights to Florida.
In January, a peak month for Brazil summer travel, Barueri-based Azul filled 90 percent of its seats to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale with paying passengers. That tops the international flights at Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA and Tam, a unit of Latam Airlines Group SA, which were 77 percent and 86 percent full, respectively, according to the Brazilian airline association known as Abear.
Gol and Tam also fly to places like Buenos Aires and Santiago, operating from Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport, while Azul serves the U.S. from its hub at Campinas airport outside Brazil’s largest city.
Brazil’s potential growth in air travel is greater than in mature markets, and part of the success of Azul’s flights abroad, Beting said on March 16. New York-based JetBlue, which started flying in 2000, also began with a domestic focus before adding flights to the Caribbean and Central and South America.
With a population of about 200 million, Brazil is South America’s largest country though it has fewer available seat kilometers per week originating in the nation than in France or the U.K., countries that have fewer than one-third as many people each. About 19 million paying Brazil passengers flew internationally in 2013, according to the aviation regulatory agency known as Anac.
The Brazilian currency weakened by 18 percent against the dollar this year through Tuesday, making Brazilians think twice about traveling abroad, Beting said. Azul benefits from being only the second airline to fly direct between Sao Paulo and Orlando, one of the top destinations for Brazilians.
“We’re going into the low season now, so we’re unlikely to maintain the high numbers from January,” Beting said. “But we still think we’ll have healthy numbers.”
(An earlier version of this story was corrected to specify the scope of international flying by Azul’s competitors.)
Reporter: Christiana Sciaudone from Sao paulo