Azul to launch service to Embraer hometown Sao Jose dos Campos

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Brazil's Azul has unveiled plans to launch service to Sao Jose dos Campos, Embraer's hometown and a potential alternative airport for the booming Sao Paulo metropolis.

The low-cost carrier says it will begin serving Sao Jose dos Campos on 3 November from Belo Horizonte's Confins Airport and Curitiba. Azul will initially serve both new routes with two daily flights.

In announcing the new routes today, Azul president Pedro Janot points out the carrier will be the only airline operating both the routes and says "in addition we are the first to operate scheduled flights with E-Jets to Embraer's headquarters city".

Embraer has its headquarters and aircraft production facility at the Sao Jose dos Campos airport. But the airport, although it also serves a growing city with a population of roughly one million, has limited commercial air service.

According to Innovata, only Brazilian regional carrier TRIP currently serves Sao Jose dos Campos. It now operates 10 weekly ATR 42 flights to Sao Jose dos Campos from Rio de Janeiro Santo Dumont and two weekly ATR 42 flights from Belo Horizonte's Pamphula Airport.

However, Sao Jose dos Campos-based air taxi company Laguna Linhas Aereas is planning to launch a scheduled airline next year with a fleet of Fokker 50s and Fokker 100s, which could give Sao Jose's sleepy airport several new routes.

As Sao Jose dos Campos is only about 100km from Sao Paulo, the airport is seen as a potential alternative gateway for Sao Paulo.

Fast-growing Campinas, which is the base for Azul and TRIP, now serves as Sao Paulo's only alternative to the congested airports of Congonhas and Guarulhos. Campinas is also located about 100km from Sao Paulo. While Campinas is located north of the city, Sao Jose dos Campos is located to the east, making Sao Jose a more convenient option for the people living in the city's fast-growing eastern suburbs.

Azul says Sao Jose will be the carrier's 26th destination. Azul has been adding destinations at a fast pace as it prepares to take several additional E-195s later this year. Sao Jose dos Campos is the fifth new destination announced by Azul this month alone, joining Sao Luis, Teresina, Aracaju and Joinville.

Azul earlier this week took delivery of two additional E-195s, giving it a fleet of 11 E-195s and 10 E-190s. The carrier plans to take five more E-195s by the end of this year and another 12 E-195s in 2011. It also plans to take next year the first of 20 new ATR 72-600 turboprops.

As it rapidly expands its fleet, Azul plans to open several mini-hubs throughout Brazil that will focus on offering point-to-point routes that are not currently served or are underserved. Sao Jose dos Campos has the potential of becoming a mini-hub complementing Azul's Campinas base, where by the end of October it will serve 20 destinations including Belo Horizonte and Curitiba.