Spirit Airlines is seeking to swap some of its 26 Airbus A319s for larger A320s as the low-cost carrier aims to make the A320 the backbone of its future fleet.

CEO Ben Baldanza says the A320 is the ideal aircraft for Spirit's network given its payload and range although the carrier currently doesn't operate any A320s and its original order only specified A319s.

But Baldanza says the four aircraft Spirit will add next year will all be A320s and the carrier plans to convert over time all its existing A319 orders to A320s. He reveals Spirit is also interesting in trading at least some of its existing A319s, all of which are leased, for A320s.

"If it makes economic sense to do trade-outs for A320s we'll do that," Baldanza tells ATI.

But he adds leasing companies may be reluctant to agree to such trades because "at the worldwide level the A320 is more marketable".

Baldanza says while the A319 may be a better fit on some of its long thin routes and at some high altitude airports that it serves in Latin America, Spirit overall prefers A320s because its A320s are 8% more efficient than its A319s on a per seat basis. He believes Spirit's old management team made a mistake in 2005 when it selected the A319 over the A320 for its original 35-aircraft order.

Spirit also operates two A321s but Baldanza says these are not as efficient as A320s due mainly to higher engine maintenance costs. He says Spirit is also not interested in more A321s because of range limitations. Spirit packs 218 seats into its A321s, which limit the aircraft to routes of three hours or less.

Baldanza also complains that Airbus charges too much for A321s compared to A319s. He believes Sprit's original order locked the carrier in with good prices on the A319 but "sacrificed" high prices on the A321.

"They are too expensive," Baldanza says of the A321. "$50 million - we won't pay that."

Spirit still has 37 Airbus A320 family aircraft on order, including seven from the original 2005 order and 30 from a follow-up order it placed in 2006. Baldanza says Spirit has now specified A320s for 20 of these while the other 17 are still on Airbus' books as A319s.

He says Spirit has the option of converting all of its future A319s at a pre-set price to A320s or A321s. He adds if Spirit was told it had to decide now, he would convert all of them to A320s.

Spirit configures its A319s with 145 seats. It plans to configure its A320s, which will be delivered from early next year, with 178 seats.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news