Spirit Airlines has 31 Airbus A319s in its fleet. Seating 145 passengers, these planes are the smallest in the airline’s fleet in terms of passenger capacity. As the oldest fleet in the airline’s fleet, the airline is weighing its options for the planes, with all of them parked for the foreseeable future.
Spirit’s Airbus A319s
Spirit Airlines has 31 Airbus A319s in its fleet, with a total seating capacity of 145 passengers. All of these aircraft are currently parked, and the airline has plans to keep these jets parked until next year.
However, the carrier has not necessarily written off these aircraft as gone from the fleet. Scott Haralson, CFO at Spirit Airlines, said the following when asked about the future of the Airbus A319s on the airline’s third-quarter earnings call:
“Today the 319s are parked, not necessarily grounded but they are parked in advance of the time period where we think they’ll be useful again. So, when we think about the 319s obviously, we’ve been planning for those to go away at some point. They’re our oldest aircraft in the fleet.”
How the airline is thinking about its A319s
Spirit Airlines is thinking of its Airbus A319s as flexible capacity. Mr. Haralson went further and stated the following:
“So, there are some things we can do with that aircraft depending on what happens with demand. So, right now we’re viewing it as flex capacity. But depending on where the market is for A320s and all those things it may change which aircraft we view is the right aircraft for us over the near-term.”
The A319s only seat 145 passengers. This compares to the A320s, which seat 182, and the A321s, which seat 228. Through 2021, Spirit Airlines is taking delivery of new Airbus A320neo aircraft, which are more fuel-efficient than the A319s and offer better economics. Spirit Airlines is only expecting 16 new aircraft in 2021.
While most other carriers go ahead and retire some of its older aircraft, Spirit Airlines has different plans. One of the strongest points for the airline right now is that leisure travelers are the bulk of passengers flying these days, and most of them are price-shopping, which gives Spirit Airlines an opening to return to profitability.
In December, during the holiday travel season, Spirit is, in fact, expecting to increase its Latin America and Caribbean capacity compared to the same period in 2019. For that, the carrier might need some A319s to sustain certain operations once travel picks up again from March.
The argument against retiring the A319
Most of Spirit’s Airbus A319s are owned outright by the carrier. So, it makes sense for Spirit to hang onto the aircraft. There are no leasing fees, no finance payments, etc. that Spirit has to make on the jets. Aside from the cost of parking and maintaining the aircraft, those costs might be worth it if demand increases faster than Spirit currently anticipates it will.
Another thing to consider is that Spirit has a lot of room to grow. For example, the airline has no presence in some decent-sized markets like San Antonio, Milwaukee, Honolulu, Jacksonville, St. Louis, El Paso, Albuquerque, and others. While not all of these destinations could be served efficiently with Airbus A319s, the A319s could replace A320s or A321s on certain routes with increased frequencies.
In a time when airlines are in search of revenue where possible, if Spirit can get into an airport cheap and access fare-paying passengers, then it might make sense to hang on to the A319s a little longer to open up new routes in the spring when travel demand will hopefully start to pick up.
The other thing to recognize is, while the A319s are the oldest planes in Spirit’s fleet, data from Planespotters.net shows that these jets are, on average, only 14 years old. While this is relatively young compared to other airlines, it is a little old for a low-cost carrier, largely because older aircraft require more maintenance and slightly reduce operational reliability and efficiency.
All-in-all, there are arguments for and against retiring the A319s. Spirit is wise to wait until early 2021. This is in large part because nobody knows how the demand recovery will play out. With the US heading into what appears to be an even worse third wave of cases, Thanksgiving and the December holidays could be less of a boon for airlines than currently thought, but, then again, travel demand over the last few weeks has been relatively resilient. Whether that holds, however, is not guaranteed.
Do you think Spirit Airlines should retire the Airbus A319s, or do you think the carrier’s flexible capacity plan with the A319s is a good idea? Let us know in the comments!