Dallas-Fort Worth International airport will be low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines' second biggest operating base in 2013 and, based on the indications, the airline has every intention to keep growing out of the Texas airport.
Long considered the stronghold of Fort Worth-based American Airlines, the airport has been a key focus in Spirit's growth in 2012. Based in Miramar, Florida, Spirit has shifted away from growth out of its base at the Fort Lauderdale airport.
In 2013, it will launch operations to nine new destinations from Dallas-Fort Worth, taking the total number of cities served from the airport to 26. Spirit's chief executive Ben Baldanza says at a Florida investors conference today that the airline will fly to more domestic cities out of Dallas-Fort Worth than out of Fort Lauderdale, making the Texan airport its second biggest base.
Of the nine new destinations being served from the airport, only one (Fort Myers) is seasonal. The remaining eight destinations are: Cancun, Latrobe (Pennsylvania), Los Angeles, Los Cabos, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New Orleans, Oakland and Philadelphia.
Spirit began flying to Dallas-Fort Worth only in May 2011 but has quickly added new destinations during the past year. In May 2012, it began flights to Denver, Myrtle Beach and Tampa. A month later, it began flights to Detroit, Portland and San Diego, as well as Toluca airport, a secondary airport serving Mexico City.
Spirit's route map out of Dallas-Fort Worth in January 2012
Spirit's route map out of Dallas-Fort Worth in July 2013
Source: Innovata Flightmaps Analytics
Spirit announced in October that it would open crew bases at Dallas-Fort Worth airport this month, and will station more than 250 staff comprising 170 flight attendants and 80 pilots there by the third quarter of 2013. It will also expand its maintenance base at the airport and employ more than 30 mechanics.
While American Airlines will still hold the lion's share of capacity into and out of Dallas-Fort Worth in July 2013 after all of Spirit's new flights out of the airport are launched, the low-cost carrier will by then be in third place in terms of available seat kilometres, Innovata data shows.
Many observers have wondered if Spirit's big push in Dallas-Fort Worth have anything to do with American's troubles, following the mainline carrier's filing for bankruptcy protection more than a year ago.
But Baldanza has repeatedly dismissed this, saying that American's fortunes have had no bearing on Spirit's expansion out of Dallas-Fort Worth.
"We've been with [American's parent] AMR a long time in South Florida... we know what they are about, they know what we are about," Baldanza said in July.
Instead, he pointed to the high fares in Dallas-Fort Worth and the space at the airport as reasons behind Spirit's growth. Baldanza believes Spirit's expansion will continue to stimulate demand and lower fares, and that the market could be even bigger.
"You have an airport that's very large, and there is a lot of empty space," Baldanza told Flightglobal in July, noting that Delta Air Lines used to operate a hub at Dallas-Fort Worth. He also paid recognition to the airport's "very aggressive" team, who he said has worked well with Spirit to secure the space and facilities it needs at the airport.
While Fort Lauderdale still beats Dallas-Fort Worth in terms of the total number of destinations that Spirit serves out of each airport, it is not inconceivable that Dallas-Fort Worth could surge ahead in the following years. Spirit flies to 42 destinations non-stop from Fort Lauderdale currently, according to Innovata data.
Baldanza has made it clear that growth out of Fort Lauderdale will slow in the years to come, and that there is strong international potential for Dallas-Fort Worth.
By June 2013, Spirit will fly to three Mexican destinations from the Texas airport: Toluca, Cancun and Los Cabos. Baldanza told Flightglobal in April that the airline believes there is more "Mexican affinity" with Texas and California than with Florida.
"Dallas has international potential to Mexico and maybe even Central America at some point," said Baldanza in April. "It's a logical extension of the flying we are already doing in Dallas."
Spirit now serves various destinations in Central America, including San Salvador, Panama City and San Jose, but operates to these cities from Fort Lauderdale.
The carrier expects to increase overall capacity by 18% to 22% in 2013. Besides growth out of Dallas, Denver and Houston are the other airports that the airline is focusing growth out of.
Spirit added Houston to its network in September with flights to Dallas-Fort Worth, and now operates to Chicago O'Hare and Las Vegas as well. It will launch non-stop service between Houston and Orlando International airport from February 2013.
Denver was added to Spirit's network in May, and the airline flies to five destinations from the airport in Colorado. In February 2013, it will begin flights between Denver and Detroit, the sixth destination.