Azul Brazilian Airlines’ first international flights were announced in April 2014, only six years into its operation. Fueling the international expansion were seven secondhand Airbus A330-200s, a type still used today, and an order for five Airbus A350-900 XWBs. The Brazilian economy was soaring, the Brazilian real was well appreciated in relation to the dollar and fuel prices were at an all-time high. In such conditions, the A350s, set to be delivered in 2017, were well-needed.
Since then, Brazil has faced a severe recession, fuel prices returning to a reasonable price and its currency strongly depreciating, which shrank the international demand that once prompted Azul’s rapid expansion. In the start of 2017, Azul announced it would cancel the delivery of the A350s. Though the airline gave up of the A350, it did not give up on its international routes and announced the order of five A330-900neo aircraft, the next-generation version of the Airbus A330-300.
The first aircraft, after some delays, was finally delivered on May 11 at the Airbus Delivery Centre in Toulouse, France with little fanfare despite it being the first South American airline to take delivery of the type. Registered as PR-ANZ, the aircraft named “O Mundo é Azul” — Portuguese for “The World is Azul.”
Proudly wearing Azul’s colors, the A330neo will serve the same markets as the current generation A330s, connecting Azul’s main hub in Campinas to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Lisbon and Porto, as well as flying from Belo Horizonte and Recife to Orlando and from Recife to Fort Lauderdale. The two Floridian cities are the airline’s only destinations in the U.S., connecting Brazil to codeshare partner and fellow David Neeleman brainchild JetBlue Airways’ domestic route network.
Though the A330-200s are aging, the A330neos are set primarily to add capacity and not to substitute the A330ceos. The new aircraft feature an extended fuselage, comparable to the A330-300, and also a crew rest section which will allow them to operate longer routes, like Campinas-Paris.
According to Azul, the A330-900neo is set to burn 14 percent less fuel per seat, while carrying 26 more passengers than the A330-200 – 298 compared to the 272 of the densest version of the A330-200. The aircraft features a two-class configuration consisting of business class and economy class with 34 lie-flat seats in business class and 264 in economy comprised of 108 Economy Xtra seats and 156 in standard economy seats.
Azul debuted the aircraft to the Brazilian traveling public on June 1 with a special flight between Sao Paulo and Recife, inviting AirlineGeeks onboard to document the first revenue flight for the Airbus A330-900neo for a South American carrier.
Azul’s First Airbus A330-900neo Flight
Arriving at Campinas-Viracopos airport, the terminal is so oversized it amazes you. The result of a 2014 project when the government granted it to the private sector, the airport was set to be, in the long term, a major gateway to Brazil. Then, the recession took its toll and such a dream was quickly gone. Even though Viracopos is a wonderful airport, it is a massive white elephant located 70 miles away from Guarulhos. Almost all passenger operations are made by Azul, which has a large hub there.
Our flight to Recife would be AD5304, typically operated by a narrowbody Airbus A320 aircraft instead of the widebody Airbus A330-900neo that would be gracing the route this day. The scheduled flight time of 3 hours and 15 minutes would allow us all to get well-acquainted with the aircraft as we headed up the Brazilian coast for Recife.
Commemorating the achievement, our gate, B07, was decorated with balloons and a banner. If the passengers onboard were previously unaware, they now knew that today’s flight would be a special one. Azul’s Director of Network Planning and Alliances Marcelo Bento welcomed passengers and made a brief speech regarding the historic flight for Azul.
Just after 1 p.m., boarding started for Azul’s first Airbus A330-900neo flight. Every passenger received a tiny souvenir, which consisted of a piece of chocolate cake.
Onboard the aircraft, the excitement was palpable as it seemed everybody was eager to test out the new features of the recently-delivered aircraft. The interior still had the new aircraft smell, having been delivered from Toulouse less than a month prior to its first flight.
Before our pushback, the chief flight attendant for the flight, Melissa, made an emotional speech in welcoming us onboard. Melissa was one of the first flight attendants for the airline and having been hired in 2008 when Azul was still starting up, she had seen the airline grow to where it is today.
Following a quick pushback and taxi, Captain Godoy lined PR-ANZ on the runway and soon the Rolls Royce Trent 7000 engines were at its maximum throttle. Their sound is impressive as it’s so low you almost don’t notice it, even sitting directly in front as I was.
Six minutes later, the seatbelt sign was turned off. Then, it seemed as though every business class passenger started to take photos of every detail of the cabin. Business class on the A330neo is arranged in a 1-2-1 configured with all seats featuring direct aisle access.
Along the wall of the aircraft are the aisle and window seats, with the window seats offering the greatest amount of privacy. In the center aisle, the two seat types are aisle seats and paired honeymoon seats, the latter proving an ideal traveling experience for couples.
In business class, the large in-flight entertainment seats extend from the seatback to face the passenger. The in-flight entertainment system consisted of three language options: English, Portuguese and Spanish, and could be controlled via a tethered remote or via the touchscreen.
Ideal for long-haul flights, the seats have a lie-flat capability and can be adjusted as such via the control panel directly next to the seat.
In economy, the colorful seats are organized in the standard A330 2-4-2 configuration consisting of Economy Xtra and standard economy seats, each one featuring its own color palette. The cabin is dividing amongst the two rear sections of the aircraft with Economy Xtra seats featuring lighter shades and regular economy seats featuring dark shades of blue.
Each seat featured personal touchscreen in-flight entertainment screens for movies, television shows and a moving map. Additionally, the seats featured adjustable headrests, coat hooks, 110v AC power outlets and USB charging ports in addition to a foldable tray table and redesigned seatback pockets.
Despite the attractive looking system, however, there were very few on-demand entertainment options with a few movies and no music. Though this was only a three-hour flight, Azul should definitely add some more options for longer flights.
Incorporating Airbus’ Airspace cabin, the aircraft features little enhancements such as mood lighting to increase passenger comfort and the aesthetics of the aircraft.
The meal service in business class consisted of the traditional Azul snacks, beverages and also two sandwich options. A credit to the Azul standard, I would say it is the best domestic service in Brazil, now that Avianca Brasil has gone.
The cruising altitude for the flight was 41,000 feet, well above most of the other air traffic. The decreased fuel load due to the short flight and the increased economics of the aircraft helped make that altitude possible.
Before beginning our descent into Recife, the final aspect of the business class service, a quick beverage service, began, signifying the near end of the flight.
After a quick 3-hour trip up north, it was time to begin our descent in Recife. Though upsetting, of course, the sights from our windows would be rewarding during landing with the Recife metro area in full view.
At 5:04 p.m. we made an extremely smooth landing at Recife/Guararapes International Airport and the first Airbus A330-900neo flight for a South American carrier was complete.
AirlineGeeks would like to thank Azul for inviting us onboard the first flight of its Airbus A330-900neo