Airline Weekly

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Spirit Aims to Dominate South Florida With 30-Route Miami Expansion

Edward Russell
June 8th, 2021
Spirit Airbus A319

Photo credit: Spirit revises its guidance down on Delta-variant concerns Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines plans what is one of its single-largest new city expansions ever with up to 31 flights a day to 30 destinations from Miami International Airport, beginning between October 6 and November 18, the airline said Tuesday. The expansion will complement its existing base at nearby Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The expansion is the latest move in Spirit’s long-standing effort to build its brand in South Florida. The airline is building a new $250 million headquarters near the Fort Lauderdale airport and adjacent to the I-95 highway that CEO Ted Christie has described as driving “brand awareness in South Florida.” In addition, its continued expansion in Fort Lauderdale will see its departures top 100 a day for the first time in July.

In 2020, Spirit expanded its share of the 34.8 million Fort Lauderdale, Miami and West Palm Beach flyers by more than four points to 14.1 percent compared to the year before, Bureau of Transportation Statistics data via Cirium show. The gains put it well ahead of third-place JetBlue and second only to American.

Miami has emerged as an air service winner during the coronavirus pandemic. Both JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines, which for years focused their respective South Florida operations at the nearby Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach airports, have added Miami to their maps since the crisis began. Emirates will replace Fort Lauderdale with Miami in July. And all of this occurred as the airport remains a major hub for American Airlines.

In June, seat capacity in Miami is scheduled to increase 4.5 percent versus two years ago, according to Cirium schedule data. Domestic seats will be up nearly 36 percent and international seats down nearly 24 percent.

Budget carriers long avoided the Miami airport for its high costs. The average cost per enplanement (CPE) was $19.23 per passenger at Miami compared to $6.89 per passenger at Fort Lauderdale in 2019, Federal Aviation Administration data show. Asked about costs, Spirit spokesperson Field Sutton said the Miami airport has restructured its airline usage fees in a way that makes it more attractive — in other words affordable — to low-cost carriers like Spirit.

“We don’t view this as an assault on Miami. We just view this as a natural extension of the course Spirit is on,” Sutton said when asked about the competitive dynamics of Spirit’s entrance into Miami. He added that the airline views the expansion as either adding a “fourth O’Hare to Fort Lauderdale [flight], or add O’Hare to Miami.”

The carrier’s Miami expansion is split between 20 domestic routes to destinations including Baltimore/Washington, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, Las Vegas and New York LaGuardia; and 10 international routes including to Bogota, Guatemala City, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and San José, Costa Rica.

(Source: Cirium)

Spirit will face competition on all but one — Atlantic City — of its 30 new Miami routes, Cirium data show. Competitors include a who’s who of airlines including American, Avianca, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest, and United Airlines.

No crew base is planned in Miami at this time, Sutton said.

Spirit anticipates flat capacity in 2021 compared to 2019, according to its latest guidance. However, the airline plans to grow capacity by roughly 30 percent year-over-year in 2022. That growth will be fueled by the reactivation of stored Airbus A319s and the deliveries of 14 new A320neos for a fleet of 173 aircraft — compared with fewer than 150 active aircraft at the end of last year — by the end of December.


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