A US start-up which has so far secured its mostly profitable existence by controlling growth and sticking to niche leisure markets up and down the east coast is to test new waters. Detroit, Michigan-based Spirit Airlines will begin a non-stop service to Los Angeles in June and is expanding operations with a new base in Florida.

Ned Homfeld, the airline founder and chief executive officer, admits that this is an experiment. But Spirit is not the sort of airline that experiments lightly. "We have been primarily a north-south leisure carrier on the east coast these past years, but that means we have been unable to use the different time zones to best advantage to increase utilisation," says Homfeld. "This allows us to experiment and gives us a very safe and inexpensive way into this market."

Homfeld sees Los Angeles as a natural extension to its network, which links north-eastern cities to key tourist destinations, mostly in Florida. The daily flight will be a "red-eye" in both directions so that maximum use is made of the airline's 20 Boeing MD-80s and McDonnell Douglas DC-9s.

Spirit is also setting up a base in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Corporate headquarters will move to Florida. Sales next year are expected to reach $230 million, compared with 1998's $130 million.

Source: Airline Business