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ReutersStock Markets28 minutes ago (Sep 13, 2021 04:05AM ET)

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: David Neeleman, founder of Azul SA, attends an event to mark the service launch of its new E2-195 planes with Brazil’s No. 3 airline Azul SA in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil September 12, 2019. REUTERS/Roosevelt Cassio/File Photo

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Start-up low-cost U.S. carrier Breeze Airways said Monday it has agreed to purchase an additional 20 Airbus A220-330 aircraft as it looks to expand operations to longer flights.

The 20 additional planes are on top of Breeze’s existing order of 60. Breeze will take delivery of its first A220 next month, on October 26. After that, Breeze will take delivery of a total of 80 A220s at one per month for the next six and a half years.

Breeze Chief Executive David Neeleman said in a Reuters interview the airline had options to buy 60 additional A220s and was exercising 20 of those. “This just shows growth is on the way,” Neeleman said.

Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer said in a statement the A220 “is purpose-built for the 120-160 seat market and represents the fusion of performance and technology that will enable Breeze to connect distant points that were previously unprofitable or, in some cases, impossible.”

Last month, Breeze Airways parent company closed a $200 million Series B funding round led by funds and accounts managed by BlackRock Inc (NYSE:) and Knighthead Capital Management LLC.

Breeze Aviation Group previously raised more than $100 million. Breeze, which began flights in May, is now serving 16 U.S. cities and nearly 40 routes.

Neeleman plans to use the A220 aircraft on routes longer than two hours’ flight time starting in early 2022.

Breeze currently has 13 Embraer aircraft and focuses on flights between smaller U.S. cities with little or no direct service from larger carriers. Breeze is serving cities like Tampa, Florida; Norfolk, Virginia; Louisville, Kentucky; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Hartford, Connecticut; Akron, Ohio and New Orleans.

Neeleman said he also expects to acquire about a half-dozen additional Embraer planes next year.

Breeze is Neeleman’s fifth commercial airline startup, including JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ:) Corp and Canada’s WestJet.

Neeleman said Breeze bookings are “a little softer” in the near-term because of COVID-19 but is stronger further out. “The virus has probably taken 10% out of the bookings,” Neeleman said.

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