June 25, 2021

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Transportation Department approves new airline led by JetBlue founder

The Department of Transportation on Wednesday officially granted approval to a new airline from JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman. 

A Transportation Department spokesperson confirmed to The Hill that the agency had granted a final order stating that Breeze Aviation Group could participate in interstate passenger travel.

The Associated Press first reported the news, citing Wednesday’s order that stated Breeze has been granted up to one year to begin flights of up to 22 planes. 

In an application submitted by Breeze last year, the company said it aimed to fly smaller planes to “neglected, forgotten markets” as larger airlines have turned their attention to major airport hubs. 

According to the AP, Neeleman, 61, who also co-founded Morris Air, which was sold to Southwest Airlines in 1993, owns 36 percent of Breeze and will serve as its CEO. 

The company plans to use 118-seat Embraer jets leased from Neeleman-founded Azul-Brazilian Airlines, as well as other aircraft-leasing companies, the AP reported. 

Breeze has also agreed to purchase 60 Airbus 220-300 planes that each hold about 130 to 160 passengers, according to the newswire. 

Neeleman has said that the new airline, which will be headquartered in Darien, Conn., but operate flights out of Salt Lake City, will include the low costs and prices of his previous airline ventures, with a key focus on overall consumer experience. 

The Brazilian American airway entrepreneur told Business Insider in an interview last month that Breeze will utilize mobile apps and other self-serving technologies in order to create a streamlined traveling experience. 

“We want something where nobody ever has to call, pick up the phone to call us, or have a hassle,” Neeleman said. 

While the airline was initially expected to debut late last year, the move was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on aviation, with airline companies suffering significant economic losses as lockdown orders reduced travel across the U.S. and around the globe.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention delivered a further blow to the airline industry this week through updated guidance encouraging both nonvaccinated and fully-vaccinated individuals to avoid traveling for the time being

Airlines for America, which advocates for major U.S. airlines, said in a statement responding to the new guidance that it is confident in major airlines’ efforts to prevent coronavirus transmission aboard aircraft, including through enhanced cleaning measures and blocking certain seats. 

-Updated 5:32 p.m.