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Azul targets business travellers with US flights

Brazil's Azul plans to target the corporate traveller with its inaugural international flights to the USA, and will offer a full-service product with lie-flat business class seats and Skycouches in economy plus, it tells Flightglobal.

"We are a heavily corporate airline today, 65% of our business is business traffic," says Azul's chief executive David Neeleman. Pointing to the two million travellers that are signed up to Azul's frequent flyer programme, Neeleman says it makes sense to target business travellers for Azul's USA flights, regardless of whether they are flying for work or leisure.

Azul plans to eventually operate seven Airbus A330-200s and five A350-900s on its international flights. The airline had previously announced it will lease six A330s, but tells Flightglobal it will purchase a seventh from lessor BBAM.

The seven A330s were previously operated by Gulf Air or Emirates at some point. Azul plans to launch the US service in December, and will operate the flights initially with the aircraft still in their previous configuration. Neeleman explains that the lead time to install Azul's chosen seats was too long, so the airline will only get the A330s reconfigured starting in March.

"We don't want to miss the peak season," he says. Azul is aiming 1 December as the start date for its flights from Viracopos-Campinas to Fort Lauderdale, followed by flights to Orlando on 15 December. The carrier will begin service to New York John F. Kennedy in mid-2015.

The aircraft will be reconfigured with Azul's desired layout starting from March at a rate of two aircraft per month, and Neeleman says all seven A330s will be done by June.

When completed, five of the seven A330s will be configured in a high-density layout with 271 seats. The remaining two will be configured with 242 seats.

Azul's high-density configuration will feature 20 lie-flat business class seats, 122 economy plus seats and 129 economy seats. About half of the economy plus seats can be converted into Skycouches, a product designed by Air New Zealand that has since been licensed to other carriers such as China Airlines.

Azul's low-density A330s will offer 35 lie-flat business class seats, 52 economy plus seats and 155 economy class seats. Skycouches will also be available in the low-density A330's economy plus cabin. The carrier's economy plus seats come with a 34in seat pitch, while economy seats have 31in.

The airline says it will likely operate the low-density A330s on the New York flights, taking into account the business travel demand on that route.

Azul has so far received one A330-200, an airframe that was previously operated by Gulf Air and now configured with 246 seats in a two-class layout, the Ascend Fleets database shows. It is scheduled to receive its second A330 this week, says Neeleman.

The carrier will offer a full-service product on board its international flights, including complimentary meals and in-flight entertainment. Azul says all seven A330s will be equipped with Panasonic Avionics' eX3 system.

Despite a full-service offering, Neeleman says the airline's fares will be priced lower than that of legacy competitors. Round-trip economy class fares to Florida could start as low as $600. "We are going to compete well," says Neeleman. "We have significantly lower costs than TAM."

Following Azul's announcement, American Airlines says it will begin non-stop service from Viracopos to Miami as well as New York JFK in December. American and TAM already offer non-stop service between Miami and Sao Paulo Guarulhos.

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