Spirit Airlines is close to signing a deal to equip its entire Airbus A320 family fleet with wi-fi, in a move that departs from the airline's long-held strategy of eschewing amenities on board.

Spirit chief executive Bob Fornaro tells FlightGlobal that installations will begin in 2018. The carrier expects it will take about a year for the entire fleet to be equipped.

Spirit's new in-flight connectivity service will also allow passengers to stream entertainment to their own devices, he says, speaking at the sidelines of the Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit in Las Vegas.

"If it's just about [being able to send] e-mails, we won't be doing it," says Fornaro. He declines to specify when Spirit will announce the deal, but says the carrier is "very close" to signing an agreement.

The airline's decision to equip its fleet with in-flight connectivity is a surprise, given that it has steadfastly held to an ultra low-cost business model that offers few frills on board.

Fornaro says the move will cater to the airline's growing customer base of younger passengers, who are "much more computer savvy".

Advancements in in-flight connectivity technology have also given Spirit the opportunity to bring wi-fi on board at the right price, he adds. "The costs have come down considerably," says Fornaro.

He does not expect any change to the airline's cost guidance this year as a result. But Fornaro forecasts that Spirit's move will lead to more ultra low-cost carriers going down the wi-fi route.

"If we are successful, the vendors will have a chance to expand the opportunity to a lot more low-cost carriers," he says.

Spirit operates a fleet of 104 A320 family aircraft, with another 67 on order, Flight Fleets Analyzer shows.

Source: Cirium Dashboard