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Spirit Airlines will defer Airbus orders, furlough 260 pilots in race to shore up liquidity

A Spirit Airlines aircraft undergoes operations in preparation for departure at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on February 12, 2024 in Austin, Texas. 

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

Spirit Airlines said Monday that it will defer deliveries of new Airbus planes and furlough about 260 pilots as it tries to boost liquidity.

“Of course, these steps aren’t ones we want to take but they’re necessary to ensure a strong and profitable future for Spirit,” CEO Ted Christie said in a note to staff Monday.

Spirit said it will defer all Airbus planes it has on order that were scheduled to be delivered from the second quarter of 2025 through the end of 2026. It will instead take delivery of them in 2030 and 2031. The deferrals do not include the direct-lease planes — one apiece in the second and third quarter of next year — nor scheduled deliveries for 2027 through 2029, Spirit said.

The budget airline said the deferrals would boost its liquidity by about $340 million over the next two years.

“Deferring these aircraft gives us the opportunity to reset the business and focus on the core airline while we adjust to changes in the competitive environment,” Christie said in a news release.

Miramar, Florida-based Spirit has been looking for ways to boost liquidity and convince investors that it is on track to do so as it struggles with the the grounding of many of its Airbus planes because of a Pratt & Whitney engine recall. Its planned acquisition by JetBlue Airways fell apart earlier this year after a federal judge ruled in January that the deal would be anti-competitive.

The airline said March 29 that it will receive monthly payments in compensation for the grounded Pratt & Whitney engines through the end of 2024, which would lift liquidity between $150 million and $200 million.

The pilot furloughs would take effect in September, Spirit said Monday. The airline already had leaves of absence in place for flight attendants and there is “no plan” for cabin crew furloughs, their union, the Association of Flight Attendants told members Monday. Spirit is closing its Atlantic City, New Jersey, crew base and staff will be reassigned.

Other airlines have adjusted their hiring and training in recent weeks, citing a scarcity of aircraft — a sharp change from the pilot shortage that worsened when travel demand snapped back after the worst of the pandemic. United Airlines pilots’ union late last month said the company is offering unpaid time off for pilots next month because of late-arriving planes from Boeing.

The Air Line Pilots Association, Spirit pilots’ union, didn’t immediately comment on the furloughs.

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