Dave Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue and something of a pioneer in low-cost airlines, has gone to Brazil. But he’s not running from charges or avoiding extradition, as do some of the Brazil-bound. Instead Neeleman is going to start another new airline. Neeleman’s new venture will be called by a name he will choose from entries to its website, which translated means 'Your Choice'. This is highly interactive website, and an attractive one as well. It’s a tough market, the Brazilian one, with a huge domestic low-fares presence in the form of GOL, as well as TAM, a domestic and international powerhouse, plus frequent starts-ups and failures. One, BRA Transportes Aereas, lasted about 13 months before folding last November.
Neeleman, who helped develop WestJet and Morris Air, says he has raised $150 million to finance the business, and formally announced a deal with Embraer for up to 40 E-195s with 118 seats each – fewer than the narrow-bodies flown by GOL and TAM. He'll start sometime next year with three of the Brazilian-built planes, using the huge megalopolis of Sao Paulo as a base. With an estimated 15% annual rate of growth in passengers and an economy growing by more than 5% a year, it's a big market.
Neeleman knows the country, having been born there while his father was stationed there for the old UPI wire service; he is a dual national of Brazil and the US. He also knows it from his youthful days as on missionary work for his church. Neeleman may be able to reach his target market – the 150 million Brazilians who take long-distance bus trips every year. But with GOL and TAM both growing and startup Webjet also moving along, he surely knows it will not be simple. BRA, which had a similar strategy, had placed an order for E195s shortly before shutting down, but Neeleman's planes will have LiveTV and other JetBlue-type features on board.