TAP Air Portugal will add Chicago O'Hare and Washington Dulles to its network in 2019, moving forward with plans to expand its transatlantic network with next generation aircraft.

The Star Alliance carrier will offer five-times weekly service to both cities from its Lisbon base with a 298-seat A330-900, it says today.

"This is only just the beginning," says David Neeleman, a major shareholder in TAP, at a press event in Washington DC today. "Today's expansion to Chicago and Washington DC reflects what an increasingly popular destination Portugal has become."

Asked about demand for the new routes, he tells FlightGlobal that TAP sees strength in both the business and leisure markets. Neeleman cites the growing technology cluster in Washington, and the conferences business in Portugal.

TAP will connect with its fellow Star member and codeshare partner United Airlines at both Chicago O'Hare and Washington Dulles, which are hubs for the US carrier.

"To be able to have a hub at both ends is really important to the success of any route," says Neeleman.

While TAP will codeshare with United on the new routes, it will also compete with the Chicago-based carrier between Lisbon and Washington Dulles. United will resume daily seasonal service on the route in March 2019.

United and TAP do not have an immunised joint venture, as the former has with Lufthansa, which would allow them to cooperate and jointly plan capacity across the Atlantic. Neeleman says a joint venture, while a possibility, is not in the works nor an immediate necessity.

"We don't need to be in it," he says of the Air Canada, Lufthansa and United pact.

The Chicago and Washington routes are among the first for TAP's new A330-900, which it first took delivery of earlier in November. It will introduce the aircraft on flights between Lisbon and Sao Paulo in the coming weeks.

TAP plans to have three A330neos by year-end, and take delivery of a further 15 in 2019.

The carrier told FlightGlobal in 2017 that it was considering new flights to Washington Dulles, as well as to Montreal and Philadelphia, when it began taking delivery of next generation aircraft, including the Airbus A321LR and the A330neo.

TAP could still fly the A321LR to Dulles on a seasonal basis, using the long-range narrowbody to South America during the northern peak season, says Neeleman.

No airlines fly between Chicago and Lisbon, schedules show.

Source: Cirium Dashboard