Spirit Airlines could launch as many as 35 new routes this year, although it emphasises most of the growth will come from connecting existing dots in its network.

The Miramar, Florida-based carrier has so far already announced 15 new routes that will begin operations later this year, with the majority out of Houston Intercontinental. Spirit chief executive Ben Baldanza indicates in an earnings call today that more new routes are in the works.

“It will be more connecting dots than adding new dots to the map,” he says, although he hints that the carrier could possibly announce one new destination later this year. In January, Spirit added Cleveland to its network and plans to operate to eight destinations from the city in Ohio.

Ten of the 15 new routes that Spirit has already announced for later this year will operate out of Houston Intercontinental. The airline will begin its first international service out of the airport, where it already flies to more than 10 domestic destinations.

Seven out of the 10 new Houston routes are to international points in Latin America and the Caribbean. Spirit’s international expansion out of Houston Intercontinental will begin months before competitor Southwest Airlines launches a similar plan at Houston Hobby, where the airline is investing in a new international facility.

Southwest’s new international flights out of Houston Hobby will also be to Latin America and the Caribbean. The airline will compete indirectly against Spirit on four routes to Cancun, Los Cabos, San Jose and Mexico City/Toluca.

Baldanza, however, says Spirit’s plans at Houston Intercontinental are “completely unrelated” to Southwest’s plans at Hobby. “We just don’t see it as particularly risky growth,” Baldanza says. He adds that the destinations Spirit plans to fly to out of Intercontinental are cities Spirit already serves.

“We think Houston will do well for us,” he says.

Spirit expects to grow first quarter capacity by 25.8%, second quarter by 31.5%, third quarter 33.5% and fourth quarter 30.5%. This will result in a forecasted full-year capacity growth of 30.4%, the airline says in an investors update today.

The carrier will take delivery of eight Airbus A320s, one A320neo and six A321s this year for a total of 15, ending 2015 with a fleet of 80 aircraft.

Further down the road, the airline does not rule out adding Cuba to its network, following the decision by the US and Cuban governments to restore diplomatic relations. The two countries' transportation officials are expected to hold talks to establish an air transport agreement.

"Clearly the market is interesting to us," says Baldanza. He adds that once Cuba opens up as an available destination to US tourists, the dynamics of air travel in the Caribbean could change.

Travel to Cuba for tourism by US citizens is still prohibited, although US lawmakers have introduced a bill to lift this ban.

Source: Cirium Dashboard