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UPDATE 1-U.S. gives start-up airline Breeze Airways green light to fly

(Recasts and updates throughout with more details from filings)

WASHINGTON, March 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Department on Wednesday issued a final order approving Breeze Airways to begin operations, allowing the start-up airline to begin servicing routes it says have been abandoned by larger carriers.

The order means Breeze, launched by JetBlue founder David Neeleman, can use up to 22 large airplanes in interstate travel.

With an operations center in Utah and $83 million in hand from equity investors in a second financing round, Breeze plans to focus on smaller cities currently without nonstop services.

Neeleman, who is also Breeze’s chief executive and owns 36% of the airline according to a September company filing, has vowed Breeze will be “the world’s nicest airline.”

Breeze representatives were not immediately available for comment.

Breeze told the U.S. Transportation Department last year it planned to initially use Embraer ERJ190-200 airplanes leased from Azul Linhas Aéreas Brasileiras and later Airbus A220 airplanes. It postponed the delivery of the A220 aircraft until August this year, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

Breeze said in September its “strategy remains bringing low-cost, nonstop services to mid-size markets abandoned by our current air transportation network.”

Breeze added in its September filing that by “by flying a smaller aircraft with a lower trip cost, there are hundreds and hundreds of city pairs that can support a nonstop flight.”

The airline said it would focus on “secondary leisure markets that have favorable costs for value conscious travelers or second homeowners.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jane Wardell

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