Spirit Airlines lost $158 million in the third quarter of 2023 amid price weakness in its core markets.
The Florida-based ultra-low-cost carrier said in a 26 October investor update that its third-quarter revenue fell 6.3% to $1.26 billion, compared to $1.34 billion in the third quarter 2022.
“Softer demand for our product and discounted fares in our markets led to a disappointing outcome for the third quarter 2023,” says chief executive Ted Christie. “We continue to see discounted fares for travel booked through the pre-Thanksgiving period. And, unfortunately, we have not seen the anticipated return to a normal demand and pricing environment for the peak holiday periods.”
The period around Thanksgiving Day at the end of November is traditionally the busiest of the year for US airlines.
Due to market conditions Spirit is “evaluating our growth profile and… modifying the cadence of our aircraft deliveries” through the end of the decade, as well as slowing capacity growth, Christie says.
Spirit’s expenses in the quarter rose 4.9% year-on-year to $1.5 billion, with costs related to salaries and benefits, aircraft rent and maintenance accounting for the largest increases.
Capacity (measured in available seat miles) during the quarter rose 13.5% over last year’s figure but the airline’s load factor was 81.4%, down from 83.3% last year. Spirit adds that adverse weather and air traffic control-related delays during the quarter, particularly along the US East Coast and in Florida, negatively impacted its operational performance.
Its aircraft utilisation in the third quarter was 10.8h daily, up 1.9% compared to the 10.6h in the same period of 2022.
Spirit’s planned acquisition by JetBlue Airways is now top-of-mind for the airline, as it prepares for a court trial which is now set to begin on 30 October in Boston. That trial start date has been delayed several times.
The US Department of Justice is suing to stop the $3.8 billion transaction, arguing the deal would eliminate one of the largest ultra-low-cost carriers, to the detriment of consumers.
“We continue to believe merging with JetBlue and creating a viable competitor to the Big Four US airlines is in the best interest of consumers, team members and shareholders,” Christie says.
The airlines still expect to close their deal toward the end of the first half of 2024.
Spirit also says it will likely be heavily affected by the recent recall of Pratt & Whitney P1100G geared turbofan (GTF) engines through the end of next year.
“Pratt & Whitney recently notified the company that all the GTF [A320neo-family] engines in Spirit’s fleet, including the engines slotted for future aircraft deliveries, for a yet undetermined period, are in the potential pool of engines subject to the inspection and possible replacement of the powdered metal high-pressure turbine and compressor discs,” Spirit says.
Based on P&W’s analysis, Spirit says that in the fourth quarter 2023 it “anticipates an average of 10… aircraft will be grounded”. In 2024, that number will climb “steadily from 13 in January to 41 in December, averaging 26 grounded for the full-year 2024”.
“This expectation drives a dramatic decrease in the company’s near-term growth projections,” Spirit says. For the full-year 2024, Spirit anticipates its capacity will range between flat year-on-year to up in the mid-single-percentage-point range.
Spirit says it has started talking to P&W about “fair compensation for financial damages”, but details remain unclear.
The airline ended the third quarter with 202 aircraft in its all-Airbus narrowbody fleet, having received three new A320neos and five new A321neos, and retiring four A319ceos, during the period. Spirit plans to have 204 aircraft by the end of this year, 215 at the end of 2024 and 234 at the end of 2025.