David Neeleman, the airline entrepreneur who was involved with running Morris Air (Salt Lake City) with June Morris before he founded NewAir (later JetBlue Airways) (New York) and later Azul Brazilian Airlines (Sao Paulo), has struck out again with a new airline venture. This time he is not creating something new but buying into something old.
Neeleman lead an investment group which has been selected by the state of Portugal to acquire their controlling share in troubled flag carrier TAP Portugal (Lisbon) for €348 million ($391 million), outbidding investor German Efromovich. Besides running Azul, he will now be running trouble-plagued TAP Portugal. His group will control 61 percent of the stock of TAP Portugal. Neeleman’s group will upgrade the carrier with new aircraft (probably new Embraers for the European routes).
TAP Portugal is also likely to receive a new makeover with the new ownership group, possibly with a new blue theme.
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Portugal is the mother country of Brazil. The ties are strong. Both countries speak the same language and the traffic patterns are strong between Brazil and Portugal. The Azul-TAP alliance will now compete against TAM and the LATAM Airlines Group which wants to increase the number of flights between Brazil and Europe. The battle lines are being drawn in Brazil.
For Neeleman, his Brazilian roots are deep. According to Wikipedia, Neeleman was born in São Paulo, Brazil, but raised in Miami. He lived in Brazil until he was five. He later attended Brighton High School in Cottonwood Heights, Utah, and attended the University of Utah for three years before dropping out. He served on a religious mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons) in the Northeast Region of Brazil.
After starting JetBlue Airways, CEO David Neeleman on May 10, 2007 was forced out and replaced by David Barger.
Neeleman headed south, back to his original roots. On March 27, 2008 Neeleman officially announced plans to launch a new airline, Azul (Portuguese for “blue”). Azul is now Brazil’s third largest airline and it is expanding internationally.
Also according to Wikipedia, Neeleman lives with his family in New Canaan, Connecticut, United States. He is the father of nine children. In 2000, he disclosed to CNBC that he has adult attention-deficit disorder (see the video above).
When Azul expanded to the United States it picked two cities that are big on the JetBlue Airways route map – Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood and Orlando, Florida. The ties between Azul and Neeleman’s old JetBlue Airways remain strong.
JetBlue has considered larger aircraft and longer-range routes to Latin America in the past. In essence, Azul is now filling this void (at least to Brazil) with its newly-acquired Airbus A330s.
It is very likely that Neeleman has much bigger plans in mind. The synergy between Brazil (and Latin America), North America and Europe are strong. For Neeleman, he now has the European piece in place once he solves the problems plaguing the flag carrier of Portugal. He also has remaining ties to the North American airline he founded – JetBlue Airways. Are the three the future base of a much larger airline alliance?
For JetBlue, their strategy is to make airline friends with any international carrier that has the potential of code sharing at their point of entry into the United States. They have successfully carved out a niche feeding international airlines especially at New York (JFK), Orlando and Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood. This strategy has recently put them at odds with the “Big Three” (American, Delta and United) over the on-going Open Skies dispute with the “Gulf Big Three” (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar). Due to their stance, their ties with the Gulf Big Three are likely to expand. Will Qatar Airways leave the oneworld alliance for JetBlue?
There is a lot of potential for a future Azul-TAP Portugal-JetBlue alliance although JetBlue is unlikely to do anything that would upset any relationship it has.
For David Neeleman, this is only the beginning.
Video: GE Capital. David Neeleman on Leadership and Innovation.