Spirit Airlines has reduced its summer flight schedule by 5% to 7% in order to improve its reliability amid air traffic control constraints in its home state of Florida.
“The FAA has told us that we can expect these challenges to continue this summer until they can adjust staffing,” Spirit CEO Ted Christie said on an earnings call Thursday.
Spirit cancelled 8% of its scheduled flights in April, FlightAware data shows, though cancellations dwindled during the second half of the month after the carrier made schedule adjustments.
Overall, Spirit now plans to fly 10% more capacity this quarter than it did in the second quarter of 2019. But that’s down on a relative basis from the first quarter, when Spirit flew 19.2% more capacity than it did three years earlier. The carrier expects to inch its flying back up in the third quarter, offering 14% more flights than in 2019, and then surge to 35% more capacity than 2019 in the final three months of this year.
Christie’s comments about the FAA followed two days of meetings this week between the agency, a dozen airlines and other aviation industry stakeholders about Florida airspace constraints.
Growing airline and private aviation operations in the Sunshine State have combined with unusually frequent thunderstorm activity, FAA staffing shortages and increased space launches to wreak periodic havoc on airline operations since at least the fall.
The FAA told airlines at the meeting that it would immediately increase the number of authorized staff at its Jacksonville air traffic control center and would evaluate other Florida facilities.
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Christie and Spirit chief commercial officer Matt Klein said that in addition to reducing its schedule, the airline is taking other steps to make air traffic control disruptions more manageable, including opening more aircraft bases, having more spare planes at the ready and increasing its use of out-and-back flying.
Flying out-and-back schedules, Christie explained, reduces the number of stations that are impacted by a delay in Florida. When flying point-to-point-to-point schedules, by comparison, a delay in one region reverberates further through the airline’s network.
Spirit reported first quarter net losses Thursday of $194.7 million. The airline expects pre-tax operating losses of 3% to 5% this quarter before returning to profitability in the second half of the year.
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