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Breeze Airways’ charter deal with Tulane aims for more stable business model | Business


Breeze Airways, the budget airline which started flying in May 2021 out of New Orleans, has inked a deal with Tulane University’s sports department that it hopes will be the prototype for a new business model aimed at stabilizing its flight schedule.

Breeze, started by veteran travel industry entrepreneur and JetBlue founder David Neeleman, had a choppy first year of operation, with disruptions from the pandemic compounded by a general shortage of pilots and delays getting regulatory certifications.

The result was many changes to its flight schedules, including some outright cancellations of flights that already had bookings this past summer.

“We don’t want that to ever happen again,” said Neeleman, in an interview at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport to mark the new Tulane deal. “We’ll move around seasonally but we’re not going to move people off flights that are already booked.”

“We don’t ever want that to happen again,” said Breeze Airways CEO David Neeleman of the flights that had to be canceled this past summer. A new sports charter/scheduled flights hybrid business model maybe the answer, he said.

The charter deal with Tulane, which Neeleman hopes will be a model for similar deals with other college sports programs, is part of the plan to avoid such disruptions.

New Orleans was one of the four initial bases for Breeze, along with Tampa, Charleston, South Carolina; and Norfolk, Virginia. The airline’s concept is to connect underserved airports with cities that are popular vacation destinations.

However, as Lukas Johnson, Breeze’s chief commercial officer, said, the timing was particularly bad for New Orleans because the first flights in July were well after the spring peak season. Then just over a month later, the city was hit by Hurricane Ida and several subsequent events, including the rescheduled New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, were cancelled.

Tulane to the rescue

One silver lining came when Tulane’s men’s basketball team needed to quickly find a charter operator that could take the team to away games.

Coach Ron Hunter said the university picked Breeze because it was based in New Orleans, had planes large enough to accommodate the whole team, “and it didn’t hurt that they had the best snacks.” The Tulane charter flights ended up accounting for about 10% of Breeze’s first nine months’ revenue out of New Orleans.

The new deal with Tulane will cover all the athletic teams, apart from football, which requires larger commercial airplanes. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed but there is a commitment to a minimum number of flights between Labor Day and Memorial Day. Hunter said the men’s basketball team alone flies to about 14 away games per season.

Neeleman said Breeze will dedicate one of its ten 108-seater Embraer 190s to Tulane charter flights, saying it will then serve as “a perfect backup plane” for scheduled flights from the airport. Breeze is looking to the New Orleans deal as a prototype for other such deals in its network.

A $1 billion business

“The sports charter world is a $1 billion business in the U.S. but the charter operators tend to have smaller planes and don’t operate scheduled flights, whereas for the bigger operators, like Delta, it’s just a side hustle,” said Neeleman. “We thought it’d be a good idea to be great at both.”

Other potential cities with big college sports programs in Breeze’s network are Provo, Utah, home of Brigham Young University; Hartford, Connecticut, which is near the University of Connecticut; and Providence, Rhode Island, which is close to the University of Rhode Island.

Breeze plans to deploy their fleet of 190s gradually as the charter hybrid business develops and as they take delivery of three dozen 150-seater Airbus A220-300 aircraft over the next year.

The New Orleans airport and economic boosters still have high hopes for Breeze, despite the hiccups in the first year.

The airline has promised to invest $6.6 million and to create 261 new direct jobs here. So far, it has created 53 full time positions (34 flight attendants and a supervisor, 8 technicians and their supervisor, a station manager and 10 pilots).

Flights coming back

Of the initial 10 scheduled routes that commenced in July 2021, all but two — Charleston, South Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia —were suspended or canceled, though some are coming back this fall.

Returning flights are Louisville, Kentucky, which resumes its twice-weekly flights Friday. Next month, three routes resume their flights: Jacksonville, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Bentonville/Fayetteville, Arkansas. Scheduled to return in February are: Columbus, Ohio; Norfolk, Virginia; and Akron-Canton, Ohio.

Breeze said flights purchased before Monday for travel between November 1 through February 14 to Charleston, Richmond and Louisville would be at $39 each way. Flights to Jacksonville, Florida and Savannah, Georgia would be $49 each way.

The flights to West Palm Beach, Florida, that were canceled in the summer and originally scheduled to return this autumn now will possibly return on a seasonal basis next summer, Breeze said.

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