Financially troubled US discounter Spirit Airlines has hauled back its fleet-expansion plans by deferring delivery of new Airbus A320neo-family jets previously scheduled for delivery between the second quarter of 2025 and end-2026.

The carrier, hit by Pratt & Whitney’s recall of PW1100G geared turbofans (GTFs) and the recent collapse of a planned acquisition by JetBlue Airways, will also furlough 260 pilots on 1 September, Spirit said on 8 April.

An all-A320-family operator, Spirit does not specify how many aircraft are affected by the deferrals and did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It say the deferrals exclude delivery of two aircraft it expects to lease, due to arrive in the second and third quarters of 2025.


Source: Airbus

Cirium data shows Spirit had planned to receive 33 new A320neo-family jets from Airbus between the second quarter of 2025 and end-2026

Fleets data from Cirium shows that Spirit had been scheduled to receive 33 new jets direct from Airbus between the second quarter of next year and the end of 2026.

“The agreement with Airbus will improve Spirit’s liquidity position by approximately $340 million over the next two years,” says Spirit, which faces looming debt payments.

“Deferring these aircraft gives us the opportunity to reset the business and focus on the core airline while we adjust to changes in the competitive environment,” says Spirit chief executive Ted Christie.

“In addition, enhancing our liquidity provides us additional financial stability as we position the company for a return to profitability.”

The amended agreement with Airbus does not alter Spirit’s acquisition of jets planned for delivery between 2027 and 2029, it adds. Airbus declines to comment.

The delivery deferrals, combined with “grounded aircraft due to Pratt & Whitney GTF engine availability issues”, prompted Spirit’s plan to furlough roughly 260 pilots starting on 1 September, it says. That equates to 7% of the 3,561 pilots Spirit employed at the end of 2023, according to financial filings.

“Unfortunately, we had to make the difficult decision to furlough pilots given the grounded aircraft in our fleet and our deferral of future deliveries,” Christie says.

The Air Line Pilots Association, International, represents Spirit’s pilots.

“The ramifications of the company’s announced decision are deeply troubling for our entire pilot group,” says Ryan Muller, chair of the union’s executive council for the Spirit Airlines employee group. “Coupled with the retirement of our A319 fleet and the ongoing Pratt & Whitney GTF engine issue, the airline finds itself with more pilots than its operations require.”

The union is “exploring voluntary measures that could mitigate the necessity for, or the number of, required furloughs and downgrades”, Muller adds.

Spirit has faced a double whammy from the GTF engine issues and a federal judge’s January order striking down its proposed acquisition by JetBlue.

Spirit has about 100 PW1100G-powered jets in its fleet, all of which require unscheduled inspections and replacement parts. P&W has instituted the inspections because the engines may contain components with defects introduced during a manufacturing process using powdered metal

The airline had 19 parked PW1100G-powered A320neo-family aircraft as of 1 April, according to Cirium data.

Spirit lost $447 million in 2023. On 29 March, the airline said P&W had agreed to a compensation package worth $150-200 million.

“This amendment to our agreement with Airbus is an important part of Spirit’s comprehensive plan to bolster profitability and strengthen our balance sheet,” says Christie.

Story updated on 8 April 2024 to include comments from the Air Line Pilots Association, International.