Breeze Airways is ready to take flight. Or at least it is very close. The new carrier, founded by serial aviation entrepreneur David Neeleman first teased the idea, code-named Moxy, in mid-2018. The company hopes to take flight just over two years later, with service launching later this year. That’s an aggressive timeline for getting the new carrier’s DOT application approved and routes in service, but it is not impossible. And given the experience of the team assembled, betting against them might be a mistake.
And while there was plenty learned about the what the carrier intends to do, some key questions remain unanswered for Breeze Airways.
Breeze will introduce nonstop service to these neglected, forgotten markets. By flying a smaller plane with a lower trip cost, Breeze believes there are hundreds and hundreds of city pairs crying out for nonstop flights. Each market Breeze serves will realize significant public interest benefits from the introduction of its low-fare, high-quality service
What we know about Breeze Airways
The carrier intends to launch not with the 60 A220-300s slated for delivery starting in April 2021, but with E195s leased from Azul, another of Neeleman’s airlines. Azul is shedding its older E-Jets in favor of the second generation model and these 195s are available in sufficient quantities today for Breeze; the least covers up to 28 frames. Azul flies the planes with 118 seats on board, including some premium seats at the front of the cabin. Neeleman suggested that an interior retrofit could see slimmer seats installed, allowing an extra row to fit.
Following the E195s will be the A220s. No specific seat configuration has been released but Neeleman suggested to Cranky Flier that 145, including some premium seats in the front is possible. He also talked a couple times previously about being able to swap seats around in front of the over-wing exits. Depending on the route and market demand Neeleman believes the front half of the plane could also be swapped to carry 21 flat beds instead. And he clearly has some ideas about which seats would be used and what markets would be served with that offering.
Limited routes to start
That so many E195s are readily available is nice, but not a huge deal to the company. Breeze intends to launch with charter flights rather than scheduled commercial service. After a few months of the limited operations the scheduled service will launch, still with the Embraer E-Jets. Breeze Airways will focus on routes under three hours and north-south traffic east of the Mississippi. The target is “secondary leisure markets that have favorable costs for value conscious travelers or second homeowners. These markets in many cases support once a day service or service a select few days of the week.”
Much of Breeze’s proposed service area is known by the pejorative term “fly-over country.” Breeze rejects the use of that term. Bringing and increasing service to underserved communities is an important part of Breeze’s business plan during its first year and beyond.
Limited frequencies is also a critical factor in the business plan. Neeleman talks about the cost-effective nature of flying the E195s only a couple hours at a time and potentially only one round trip per day, keeping the utilization very, very low. Looking at the first year of theoretical flight schedules the company has zero service on Tuesdays or Wednesdays until maybe month six. And even that is very limited.
An incredible executive team
If this route network concept – secondary cities, limited frequencies, leisure markets – sounds familiar there’s a good reason. Lukas Johnson and Trent Porter both worked in senior roles at Allegiant before joining Neeleman on the Breeze Airways team. They are just two of what proves to be something of an all-star network of executives that came together around Neeleman to bring Breeze to life.
A former FAA inspector, Gabrielle Smith, serves as VP of Safety. Doreen DePastino will oversee Inflight, Station Operations and Guest services. She previously managed similar groups at Emirates, Hawaiian Airlines, Virgin America and more.
Reviewing the CVs of the team as filed with the DOT, JetBlue and Azul are also well-represented in employment histories, suggesting that a number of Neeleman’s previous employees are willing to jump into the unknown with him again.
Limited on-board amenities, too
We’ve heard before that the new carrier does not intend to offer embedded inflight entertainment screens in its seats. That was confirmed again in recent conversations. But so was the commitment to delivering inflight connectivity on board. Little in the way of details and there is still time for that to evolve.
Pitching itself as a value-focused airline leaves some wiggle room for what the in-cabin service experience will look like. The initial DOT filing suggests an average catering cost per passenger of $1.50, so if there are complimentary snacks or drinks they’re unlikely to be too plentiful. The company also estimates $125/month in cleaning costs per aircraft. Even at a minimum wage pay scale that’s not much time for a cleaning crew to be on board. That will matter less if the planes are really only used for 5-10 flights per week. As the schedule ramps up, however, it will become a more pressing issue.
What we don’t know about Breeze Airways
Most obviously still missing is greater detail on what the route network will consist of. The carrier will base its maintenance operations at McArthur Airport in Islip, NY, but that’s no guarantee of flights operating from that facility. That said, Islip does fit the bill for limited demand, seasonal north/south frequencies.
Also unclear is how Breeze Airways intends to reconcile its initial launch plan of low utilization and limited services with the induction of the A220s from mid-2021. Unlike the E195s, the A220s are going to be expensive assets that will need to fly much more to pay their way on the balance sheet. Running two very different operations rarely works well for an airline. How Neeleman and Breeze balance this challenge will be an interesting study in airline operations.