TAMPA — A new airline launched from Tampa International Airport Thursday morning.
After being doused in champagne and a celebratory water spray, the Breeze Airways plane took off for Charleston, South Carolina, one of several new routes the airport is offering.
It was Breeze Airways’ first official flight as a carrier. But it also contributes to Tampa International’s effort to regain its footing as travel rebounds from the pandemic.
Tampa International recorded its lowest number of passengers last year since 1993 when travel screeched to a halt. At its lowest point, just 86,000 travelers came through the airport in the month of April last year. A year out from its worst month, 1.5 million passengers visited Tampa International this April, and Breeze is expected to boost that going forward.
“When David (Neeleman) starts an airline, it’s going to make money, period,” said airport CEO Joe Lopano.
Neeleman, who co-founded JetBlue and WestJet, said Breeze’s edge is establishing affordable nonstop service to cities that don’t already have direct flights.
His airline will step in to provide flights to 10 cities, six of which are new direct destinations for Tampa International. The routes include Charleston; Louisville, Kentucky; Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oklahoma; Norfolk, Virginia; Bentonville and Fayetteville, Arkansas; Akron, Columbus and Canton, Ohio; Richmond, Virginia; and Huntsville, Alabama.
These expanded offerings, Neeleman said, are expected to bring new travelers to the area who will boost the local economy with spending, particularly if they decide to put down roots.
“If you’ve got a great thing going in Huntsville, Alabama, for example, but you can hop on a plane and be here in an hour,” he said, “then maybe you’ll buy a place here.”
Having additional markets with direct access to Tampa Bay may also allow businesses to move to the area with greater ease, said J.P. DuBuque, CEO of the Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation.
“In the St. (Petersburg)-Clearwater area, we have been working tirelessly to build our economy by helping grow local businesses and recruit new businesses to town that share our values,” he said. “We’re going to have more of them coming because of Breeze.”
The airline’s low prices may also attract travelers who wouldn’t be able to afford standard airfare. Breeze is offering promotional pricing as low as $39 one-way through the end of May for a small number of flights at flybreeze.com. Tampa International considers low-cost carriers such as Breeze and Spirit Airlines an area ripe for expansion, Lopano told the Tampa Bay Times previously.
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If the routes perform well, Neeleman expects to expand flight offerings.