Spirit Airlines halts new pilot, flight attendant training after difficult quarter, Pratt engine issue

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  • Spirit Airlines posted a third-quarter loss and forecast another for the last three months of 2023.
  • The carrier told pilots it will suspend new pilot and flight attendant training next month.
  • The budget airline reported softer demand and said it will have to ground dozens of planes due to a Pratt & Whitney engine manufacturing issue.

Spirit Airlines will suspend training for new pilots and flight attendants next month "until further notice," according to company memos, as it plans for slower growth amid softer demand and the expected grounding of dozens of aircraft for inspections because of a manufacturing problem with some Airbus planes' engines.

The company had already slowed hiring and captain upgrades, Greg Christopher, vice president of flight operations at Spirit, said Thursday in a memo to pilots, which was seen by CNBC. "With these recent developments, however, we will also be suspending all new-hire training efforts starting in November, until further notice."

The company told flight attendants that it will halt new flight attendant training starting Nov. 7 for the foreseeable future. It is also planning to offer voluntary time off for cabin crew members, according to a separate memo from Tina Milton, vice president of inflight experience.

A Spirit spokesman confirmed the changes.

"This is not a decision we've taken lightly, but it's necessary to ensure our crew staffing levels match our operational need given the number of aircraft we can fly," he said in a statement.

The Miramar, Florida-based discount carrier said it expects to have to ground an average of 26 Airbus A320neo aircraft for inspections of engines made by RTX unit Pratt & Whitney after that company disclosed a manufacturing defect in August. The carrier said it expects 13 grounded planes in January, rising to 41 in December of next year. The airline had a fleet of 202 Airbus planes as of Sept. 30, according to a filing.

"This expectation drives a dramatic decrease in the Company's near-term growth projections," Spirit said in a filing. It said it expects capacity to be flat to up mid-single digits next year compared with 2023. The airline is in talks with RTX about compensation for the issue.

Last month, RTX said it expected repairs to take between 250 and 300 days, with an average of 350 planes powered by the geared turbofan engines grounded worldwide between 2024 and 2026.

The budget airline Spirit on Thursday posted a net loss of $157.6 million, which was more than four times its loss a year ago. It forecast negative margins for the last three months of the year.

"We continue to see discounted fares for travel booked through the pre-Thanksgiving period," CEO Ted Christie said in an earnings release. "And, unfortunately, we have not seen the anticipated return to a normal demand and pricing environment for the peak holiday periods."

JetBlue Airways is in the process of trying to acquire Spirit, a deal the Justice Department has already sued to block. The trial is expected to begin next week in Boston.

Frontier Airlines, a fellow discount carrier, continues to hire flight attendants, pilots, and mechanics, an airline spokeswoman said.

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