Airline innovator David Neeleman


David Neeleman isn't one to rest on his laurels. The JetBlue, WestJet and Azul Brazilian Airlines founder, who is also a major shareholder of TAP Air Portugal, is now working to launch a U.S. carrier. The nascent airline, which for now is known by the moniker Moxy, is slated to begin taking delivery in 2021 of 60 Airbus A220s: fuel-efficient, 130- to 160-passenger aircraft. Airlines editor Robert Silk spoke with Neeleman late last month on the day he announced that TAP will begin flying to Chicago and Washington, D.C., next summer.

Q: One unique plan you have for Moxy is to fly very few routes on which you have competition. Can you elaborate on that?

David Neeleman
David Neeleman

A: I'd be surprised if we have any routes. There are just so many other opportunities. What we've found at Azul and at JetBlue is that when we have routes that don't have any competition we just do a lot better. So I think that's one of the things that we're focused on.

Q: Will some of these routes be in large markets that other carriers service, except using alternative airports?

A: Not necessarily. Just routes that don't have nonstop service, where maybe you're having to fly to a hub to go somewhere else.

Q: Explain the strategy there. How will you pull that off on routes that other airlines have apparently decided aren't worth flying?

A: Because we have a really low-trip-cost airplane. Other airlines are just going bigger and bigger and bigger trying to offset their high costs, and we don't need to do that. We have a plane that has a 30% lower trip cost than an A321 or an A320, so we can fly to cities that they would never serve, and then we have a lot lower seat-mile cost than regional jets that are constricted to 70 or 84 seats.

Q: Do you also plan for the carrier to have a focus on Brazil in partnership with Azul?

A: We have the flexibility to do a lot of things. That's what I wanted. I just wanted maximum flexibility

Q: You've said that Moxy will be as much a technology company as it is an airline. Is it true you don't plan to have customer service agents and that customers will initiate all contact via an app?

A: It's kind of the way the world is going. And all these other airlines grew up doing things differently. We have an opportunity, given the aircraft deliveries coming later, to take a step back and try to do things differently. So that's what we're going to do.

Q: Moving on to TAP, at present your U.S. gateways are Newark, New York JFK, Boston and Miami. Jumping directly from four U.S. destinations to six is a significant expansion. Why not phase in one new city at a time?

A: We were going to Chicago last year, but we didn't have enough airplanes. So it has been on our radar for a long time. And Washington is another important city. They are both hubs for United, our fellow Star Alliance carrier. And those are routes we can both fly year-round. We really wanted to balance our network. We wanted to have as much North America as we did South America for seasonal reasons and stability reasons.

Q: Is this just the beginning? Will we see more U.S. expansion for TAP?

A: You'll see more. I'd like to get to at least 10 cities in North America. You've got two more on the docket and one more we can announce shortly and maybe the next two the summer after.

Q: TAP has restructured in recent years. Tell me one thing you'd like flyers to know that they may not know about TAP?

A: Along the lines of what we were saying about Moxy: If you're going to go to Portugal from Chicago or to Washington in the offseason, you can't get there any other way. So you've got to go on us. But what you're going to find is a great product. Really great food. Great wine. And I think people will be dazzled by it.

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