Brazil’s civil aviation authority has approved a new airline, Itapemirim Transportes Aéreos (ITA), after a year of approvals including certification flights in April. The airline’s parent, Itapemirim, is an intercity bus company that in the 1990s operated six Boeing 727 freighters and two passenger Cessna Caravans.
ITA has announced plans for accelerated growth, with its current fleet of two Airbus A320s to increase to ten when flights start in late June. It plans within a year to serve 35 destinations with more A320s and A319s. The first flights will connect major cities, including Brasilia, São Paulo, Rio, Curitiba, and Salvador. Itapemirim’s bus fleets will allow integration of air service with the 2,700 cities served by bus. The company painted its first A320, delivered in March, in the bus fleet’s bright yellow livery at the Digex MRO in São José dos Campos.
While the last major carrier to enter the market, now established Brazilian carrier Azul, grew by opening new markets with Embraer regional jets, the pandemic seems to have opened major markets to ITA from the start. Its proclaimed strategy centers on competing as a low-cost carrier while providing better service with more legroom; its A320s will come configured with up to 162 passengers rather than the 185 of its competitors, and customers will enjoy free baggage check-in and a first-class option.
Founded in 1957, Grupo Itapemirim grew to become one of Brazil’s largest interurban passenger services until regulatory changes and the 2008 financial crisis pushed it into debt. Owner Sidnei Piva de Jesus and partners took it over in bankruptcy in 2015, for a nominal sum and assumption of debt. In 2017 Itapemirim acquired regional ATR operator Passaredo, but months later Passaredo pulled out of the deal. The former owners of Itapemirim have filed suit to cancel the sale. Itapemirim, still operating under an equivalent of Chapter 11, has sold assets to finance the $6 million spent creating the airline, with similar sums from the same source going to scheduled payments to debtors and covering operational losses.
A group including Piva bid to supply equipment to São Paulo’s monorail but was disqualified for insufficient capital. In February of 2020 Piva said an unnamed Emirati fund would invest $500 million, but this month it emerged the sum would come from two unnamed Qatari funds. A Kansas City bank owns the sole aircraft carrying a Brazilian registration.
Piva projects taking Itapemirim public with a $2 billion IPO in 2024 or 2025.