A new low-cost airline is taking flight next week, and its first point of origin will be Tampa International Airport.
Breeze Airways on Friday announced it will begin flying routes between 16 cities next week, including Tampa. The carrier’s very first flight, from Tampa to Charleston, S.C., launches May 27.
“In my memory, there’s never been a brand-new airline to make their first flight out of Tampa,” airport CEO Joe Lopano said. “So this is a very exciting moment for our city.”
In all, Tampa International Airport will offer service to 10 cities, most of them via nonstop routes: Charleston, S.C.; Louisville, Ky; Oklahoma City; and Tulsa, Okla.; Norfolk, Va.; Bentonville and Fayetteville, Ark.; Akron and Canton, Ohio; Richmond, Va.; Columbus, Ohio; and Huntsville, Ala.
Tampa is one of four cities that will be an early focus for Breeze, along with Charleston, New Orleans and Norfolk. Lopano said Breeze is likely to add more nonstop flights to and from Tampa as its network expands.
“We know where people who originate in Tampa go,” he said. “We know what markets are the most popular. They’ve really done a good job here in the first phase of picking markets that have a lot of travelers, but are not nonstop (routes). They’re going to be providing not only low prices, but a more convenient service that saves you time.”
Breeze will launch with an initial fleet of 13 planes capable of carrying between 108 and 118 passengers. They’ve ordered 60 new planes that will begin arriving in October, and will keep coming as the airline expands over the next five years.
Headquartered in Utah, Breeze Airways was co-founded by David Neeleman, who founded JetBlue and WestJet, among other carriers.
The timing of the launch — the announcement of an all-new airline, followed by its first flight days later — was atypical, Lopano said. But he and Neeleman had been talking about Breeze for a couple of years. When Neeleman launched JetBlue, Lopano was aboard the first flight. And when Lopano learned Neeleman was launching another low-cost carrier, he wanted Tampa to be part of it.
“We took them up on a helicopter for a tour of the city and the beaches and all the different things we had going on,” Lopano said. “It gave him a good understanding of what our region’s about. And then we started feeding them data, in terms of the size of the markets that they were interested in, and the number of people who are moving into our area.”
Low-cost carriers like Breeze and Spirit Airlines are a growth market for the airport, Lopano said, as customers look for more options to travel on the cheap. To attract them, Breeze is offering a limited number of flights as low as $39 through May 31 via flybreeze.com.
“If you can provide consumers with a more direct flight with friendly staff and nice, clean and comfortable cabins, you’re going to get customers,” he said. “Here at Tampa, we’ve got lots of competitive options between all of our airlines. They all offer something a bit different. This is just one more service and price option for our consumers.”