In a major coup for Airbus and its newly acquired A220—formerly the Bombardier CSeries—a group of investors headed by David Neeleman has selected the aircraft over Embraer jets for a yet-to-be-named US startup airline.

The group announced an MOU for 60 A220-300s at the Farnborough Air Show July 17. Neeleman, a former Southwest Airline executive who founded New York-based JetBlue Airways and then Azul Brazilian Airlines—said the A220-300’s superior range capability was the key factor in the fleet decision. Deliveries of the aircraft will begin in 2021, which is also the year the carrier will start flying. Neeleman said a brand has not yet been fixed.

“The A220 has more range” than the Embraer E195-E2, he told ATW on the sidelines of Farnborough. The aircraft gives the carrier “more flexibility,” he said.

“The A220 will enable us to serve thinner routes in comfort without compromising cost, especially on longer-range missions,” he said in announcing the order. “With deliveries starting in 2021, we will have ample time to assemble a world-class management team and another winning business model.”

Neeleman said the carrier could use A220s on transatlantic missions, as well as on routes from the US deep into Brazil, and will develop a network predominantly around point-to-point traffic.

Airbus CCO Eric Schulz said of the deal, “This US airline startup’s decision for the A220 as the platform on which to launch their new business model is a testament to the passenger appeal and operating economics of this outstanding aircraft. This commitment confirms the important role the A220 aircraft now occupies in our Airbus single-aisle portfolio.”

Airbus took control of the CSeries program July 1 and announced its new name July 10, the week before the air show. The same day JetBlue Airways announced an order for 60 A220-300s and earmarked them as E190 replacements. Deliveries of those aircraft are planned to start in 2020. That means Airbus has secured orders for 120 Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan-powered A220s in just over two weeks since placing the aircraft in its portfolio.

Neeleman declined to say where the new US airline would have its home base. He confirmed, however, that it will most likely fly routes connecting major markets to secondary cities, with a focus on point-to-point, rather than connecting, traffic.

“It could be an LCC or it could be a mixed cabin. We have three years to figure out the model,” he said.

The airline cannot be launched sooner because Airbus is unable to deliver aircraft sooner. “But that fits us,” Neeleman said. “I am busy with Azul and TAP [Air Portugal] right now.”

Neeleman—who was also involved in the launches of Salt Lake City-based LCC Morris Air, which eventually became part of Southwest Airlines, and Canadian LCC WestJet—is the controlling shareholder and chairman of Azul and also owns a stake in TAP. Neeleman does not plan to become the CEO of the new US airline, but will provide most of the capital needed for the venture.

He said he is joined in the US startup project by a group of “friends who are throwing money at me,” adding: “Money is not an issue.”

Neeleman hinted that the new carrier will likely cooperate with Azul and TAP. In fact, while the 60 A220-300s are all allocated to the new US carrier, Neeleman’s investment group has taken options for further A220s that could be operated by TAP or Azul in the future.

Azul will be the launch operator of the E195-E2, which is scheduled to enter service next year. At Farnborough, Azul added 21 commitments for the largest E-Jet E2 model to the 30 it already had.

Jens Flottau, jens.flottau@aviationweek.com