SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) _ The founder of JetBlue Airways announced plans Thursday for a new Brazilian airline that would begin operating next year with three jets and eventually grow to a fleet of 76 planes flying nationwide.

JetBlue chairman David Neeleman said the opportunity is clear: Latin America's largest nation has a growing passenger travel market dominated by two airlines that face little domestic competition and charge high prices.

"The prices that people pay here in Brazil are 50 percent higher than the prices people pay in the United States."

Neeleman said his new venture has no connection to JetBlue Airways Corp., but some former JetBlue executives will join the venture. The new airline doesn't have a name yet, and will use mid-size E-195 jets made by Brazil's Empresa Brasileira de Aeronatica SA.

The new airline has placed an order for 36 of the 118-seat planes with Embraer, a purchase Neeleman valued at $1.4 billion. The carrier also has taken options for 40 more planes that would give the overall deal a value of $3 billion.

The entry of the airline will bring the first serious competition in years to Brazil's TAM Linhas Aereas SA and Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA, two carriers that have dominated air travel in Brazil since the collapse several years ago of Varig, Brazil's former flagship carrier.

"Brazil is a country that needs more competition and a different kind of competition," Neeleman said.

Neeleman said he would stay on as chairman of JetBlue but that there is no conflict because he is no longer involved in JetBlue's day to day operations.

"There are no plans for a change in his role," said JetBlue spokesman Bryan Baldwin. Baldwin declined further comment, saying the new airline has nothing to do with JetBlue, which is based in Forest Hills, N.Y.

Neeleman said that he has raised $150 million for the venture so far from investors in the United States and Brazil.

The JetBlue founder was born in Brazil and holds Brazilian citizenship in addition to American citizenship. The fact that is he Brazilian allows him to overcome a major hurdle for investors trying to enter Brazil's passenger airline market: A law stating that foreigners can hold no more than 20 percent of Brazilian carriers.

AP Business Writer John Wilen in New York contributed to this story

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.