A David Neeleman Creation: The History Of Brazil’s Azul

Azul Linhas Aéreas Brasileiras has been making waves in the Brazilian aviation industry for just over a decade. Often known simply as Azul, meaning ‘Blue’ in Portuguese, the carrier is the brainchild of JetBlue founder David Neeleman. Azul has a considerable market share in Brazilian air traffic, and operates a diverse fleet to domestic and international destinations.

Azul Airbus A330neo
Azul has gone from flying Embraer regional jets to the Airbus A330neo. Photo: Airbus

Azul commenced operations in December 2008, when it launched three domestic routes from Viracopos International Airport in the Brazilian city of Campinas. It looked to find its niche by flying routes that had previously been underserved. The 2010s saw it acquire regional competitor TRIP Linhas Aéreas, as well as opening its first international routes.

In the beginning

When Azul took to the skies 13 years ago, it became the third David Neeleman-founded airline to do so. It followed in the footsteps of JetBlue, Morris Air, and WestJet, and was the first to be based in Neeleman’s country of birth. Azul’s early fleet consisted of Embraer 190 and 195 series regional jets, a family that Neeleman’s JetBlue had begun flying in 2005.

Azul’s first routes from its Campinas hub served Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, and Salvador. A month later, it also added Curitiba and Vitória to its growing domestic network. Moving into the 2010s, Azul announced its acquisition of Brazilian regional airline TRIP Linhas Aéreas in 2012. That year also saw it diversify its fleet by operating the ATR 72.

David Neeleman, Breeze Airways, Future Flying Forum
Azul was the fourth of the five airlines that David Neeleman has founded to date. Photo: Getty Images

International expansion

Azul has since come to command a 23.5% market share in domestic traffic, thanks to its bold strategy of flying underserved routes from unlikely hubs like Campinas, Belo Horizonte, and Recife. However, in 2014, it took the next step, and looked beyond Brazil’s borders.

It did so using the Airbus A330-200, of which data from ch-aviation.com shows it received five examples in that year. That December, it launched its first international routes, serving two destinations in the US state of Florida. Fort Lauderdale was the first destination, with service commencing on December 2nd, and Orlando followed 13 days later.

Azul has since modernized its long-haul fleet with the Airbus A330neo (-900 variant). It currently operates five of these next-generation twinjets, which it began receiving in 2019. Azul also has three A350-900s on order, although their delivery prospects are uncertain.

Azul ATR 72
Azul also flies turboprops in the form of the ATR 72. Photo: Rafael Luiz Canossa via Flickr

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Recent developments

In recent years, Azul has shown an appetite for further growth through its interest in acquiring other South American carriers. It offered to buy Avianca Brasil in March 2019, before withdrawing this offer a month later, only to resubmit it in May 2019. In any case, this never came to fruition due to Avianca Brasil’s operational suspension that year.

This month has also seen Azul register its interest in purchasing the whole LATAM Airlines Group. This is a bigger plan than its previous intentions with the group, which focused solely on acquiring LATAM Brasil. Azul is confident that its attempts to acquire the LATAM group wouldn’t be blocked, so it will be interesting to see if and how the deal pans out.

What do you make of Azul? Have you ever flown with David Neeleman’s Brazilian carrier? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.