Spirit Airlines has big growth plans on its mind. The carrier announced a Memorandum of Understanding with Airbus today to add 100 A320neo family aircraft to its order book. The new order comes on top of 55 existing orders for the A320neo type. Combined, the pending deliveries will more than double the carriers fleet; it sits at 138 aircraft today. The 55 planes are expected to be delivered through 2021 with the new tranche joining the operation through 2027. Spirit also agreed to options on 50 more frames.
The additional aircraft will be used to support Spirit’s growth as we add new destinations and expand our network across the U.S, Latin America and the Caribbean. We look forward to working with our valued partners at Airbus to finalize our agreement.– Spirit President and CEO Ted Christie
While rumors had swirled around possibly including the A220 type in this order, Spirit shied away from diversifying its fleet, choosing to include the A319neo instead. Spirit flies 31 A319s today to a variety of destinations. Some are smaller markets while some are airports with “hot and high” conditions, a segment where the A319 excels. More important, however, is the value to the airline in keeping a single fleet type on property. While the move does limit the company’s ability to scale down to destinations that only support ~120 passengers, it keeps the crew, training, spare parts and other costs down.
The A319neo backlog is tiny, hovering below 50 frames currently of the more than 6,600 total A320neo family aircraft on order. This will improve the numbers, pending order finalization, but still not make the A319neo a significant player in the industry. The last order prior to this was more than a year ago, for an undisclosed customer believed to be a Chinese airline.
Specifics on how many of each type were not disclosed as part of the MoU announcement. This includes skipping out on how many of the planes might be of the A321LR/XLR varietal, allowing the carrier to stretch deeper into South America or otherwise extend its route map.
Also not specified in the MoU is an engine selection for the new planes. Spirit’s initial tranche of A320neo planes use the Pratt & Whitney PW100G geared turbo-fan (GTF) and the entry into service was very much not smooth. The carrier was forced to ground aircraft as it (just like other airlines around the globe) worked through troubles in the early builds of those engines. The GTF challenges slowed Airbus deliveries as well, though the engines are understood to not be causing further problems today. The alternate engine choice is CFM’s LEAP-1A.
On the tariffs front, this order is unlikely to be affected, barring a significant escalation in US-Europe trade strife. The tariffs would only be paid if the policy is still in place at the time of delivery and then only if the planes are assembled in Toulouse or Hamburg. With the Mobile, Alabama plant up and running Airbus can deliver the aircraft as US-assembled and avoid the issue completely. And by the time these planes are ready for assembly the Alabama plant should have the capacity to manage the work.
A more comfortable ride?
The new aircraft will be fitted with Spirit’s revamped interior. The company unveiled the seats to the public last month at the APEX EXPO conference in Los Angeles. The seats are surprisingly spacious for a 28″ pitch option and include improvements like a larger tray table and literature pocket.
It is still very much a high density cabin configuration, but there are worse options out there.