David Neeleman’s new Brazilian airline venture appeared to have taken a giant leap toward fruition today, as Embraer announced that the JetBlue founder signed a contract to buy 36 of the 108- to 122-seat E195 jets and take options on another 20. The deal also secured purchase rights on another 20 airplanes, which, if exercised, would raise the total value of the orders to $3 billion.
Rumors had swirled for months of Neeleman’s interest in creating a new low-fare carrier in Brazil, the country of his birth. Because Neeleman maintains Brazilian citizenship, a law that bars foreigners from owning more than 20 percent of a Brazilian airline does not apply in this case. Until very recently Neeleman hadn’t commented publicly on his plans. However, at a news conference in São Paulo, Brazil, today, he said he has raised $150 million for the venture and that the airline would start operations next year with three airplanes.