U.S. carrier Breeze confirms buying 20 more Airbus A220 jets

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Breeze Airways, the new U.S. carrier founded by entrepreneur David Neeleman, on Monday publicly unveiled an order for 20 more Airbus A220-330 aircraft as it looks to operate longer flights, confirming a Reuters report earlier this year.

The order brings Breeze’s total A220 order to 80, making it the family’s second-biggest customer after Delta Air Lines and leapfrogging Neeleman-backed JetBlue.

Breeze is Neeleman’s fifth commercial airline and is injecting new competition into a battered airline market as U.S. domestic travel recovers from the coronavirus crisis.

It began operations in May using Embraer regional jets and plans to start using the new, Canadian-designed A220 on routes longer than two hours’ flight time from early 2022.

“This just shows growth is on the way,” Neeleman told Reuters in an interview after confirming the purchase, which involved the exercising of purchase options.

Reuters reported in April that Breeze had placed an order for 20 Airbus A220 jets, bringing its total to 80, but that the name of the buyer was being withheld – a common practise as airlines polish tightly held marketing plans..

Airbus confirmed that the order announced on Monday was already on its books in the undisclosed buyer column.

Breeze will take delivery of its first A220 next month, on October 26. After that, Breeze will take delivery of a total of 80 A220s at one per month for the next six and a half years.

Airbus said the A220 aircraft would be delivered from its Mobile, Alabama, assembly line.

Last month, Breeze Airways’ parent company closed a $200 million Series B funding round led by funds and accounts managed by BlackRock Inc and Knighthead Capital Management LLC.

Breeze Aviation Group had previously raised more than $100 million.

Breeze currently serves 16 U.S. cities and nearly 40 routes.

Using 13 Embraer aircraft, it has set its sights on linking smaller U.S. cities with little or no direct service from larger carriers, including Tampa, Florida or Norfolk, Virginia.

Neeleman, who has founded a string of airlines including JetBlue and Canada’s WestJet, said he also expects to acquire about a half-dozen additional Embraer planes next year.

He said Breeze’s bookings are “a little softer” in the near-term because of COVID-19, but look stronger further out. “The virus has probably taken 10% out of the bookings,” he said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Tim Hepher, editing by Diane Craft)