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TAP Air Portugal shareholder David Neeleman talks:
TAP Air Portugal is growing its U.S. service. After
launching service between Chicago and Lisbon in early June, the carrier began
service between San Francisco and Lisbon this week and will add service to
Washington Dulles next week. Speaking at the launch of the San Francisco
flight, chair Miguel Frasquilho said the carrier's passengers to the U.S. have
grown faster than any other European airline over the past four years. The U.S.
is now TAP Air Portugal's third most important market in terms of revenue, up
from ninth in 2015, and he said TAP plans to grow even more. TAP was the launch
customer for Airbus A330neo aircraft and uses them for its new U.S. routes. The
carrier now operates more than 100 aircraft and has 71 more on order through
2025. Entrepreneur David Neeleman, who founded JetBlue and Azul Brazilian
Airlines and co-founded WestJet, is a major shareholder in TAP and is helping drive
its growth spurt. He spoke to BTN transportation editor Michael B. Baker at the
San Francisco flight launch.
BTN: What led to
the establishment of a route from San Francisco?
something I've wanted to do since the day we privatized the airline. I always
thought it would work perfectly. The first flight is full, going in and out. So,
so far, so good.
BTN: Do you
expect much business traffic on this route?
Neeleman: I do.
There's a really developing tech community in Portugal. It has a really
educated workforce and salaries aren't that high, so people are doing
outsourced stuff there and there are entrepreneurs there developing tech
enterprises. We have the Web Summit over there, which has 80,000 people. Plus,
anyone who is leaving from here and going to Spain—other than Madrid, there's
not a lot of nonstop service—we serve 11 cities in Spain and also into southern
BTN: What about
the other cities?
Chicago last week and next week in Washington. The beautiful thing about
Washington: They have all this summer service, and the winter service either
goes away or is greatly diminished. Because we have the [Airbus A321neo long-range
aircraft] with 16 lay-flat business seats, we can fly year-round. [TAP will
switch to a smaller aircraft on the route in October for the winter but will
BTN: What are
your fleet plans?
Neeleman: We have
34 airplanes this year coming in. Every plane we fly will either be a
reconfigured airplane or a brand-new airplane.
BTN: Is demand
growing between the U.S. and Portugal?
Neeleman: It's kind of a hidden gem. People haven't
discovered Portugal, and it wasn't on anyone's radar. It's the place you always
wanted to go but never really made it there. Now, we've got it, and a lot of
business conferences are there now because it's all about access.
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