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Spirit Airlines hires pilots, flight attendants in hopes of Covid recovery

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A Spirit Airlines jet lands at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 25, 2020.

Ethan Miller | Getty Images

Spirit Airlines plans to train new pilots and flight attendants as early as next month as the low-cost airline positions itself for travel recovery after the onset of the pandemic.

“We will be a great tenant again,” said CEO Ted Christie on Thursday. “The growth in the aerospace industry will be recreational and we are this guest’s primary server.”

Christie said the airline plans to hire for other positions this year. Spirit last trained a class of new pilots in May and new flight attendants last February, a spokesman said.

The airline declined to say how many employees it plans to hire this year. It ended last year with 8,756 employees, including 2,497 pilots and 4,028 flight attendants.

The airline is also recalling some workers who have taken vacation. These programs have helped avoid involuntary vacation days for unionized workers, who make up the majority of their staff. Some of these employees, such as B. Pilots must also meet federally mandated training requirements before they can return to work.

“Our training needs can only handle so much that they have to be gradual,” said Christie of the company’s hiring plans.

According to FactSet data, Spirit lost $ 428.7 million in 2020, the first annual net loss since at least 2007. U.S. airlines combined lost more than $ 34 billion to the pandemic last year, executives than the the worst crisis in the industry.

Spirit now, like others, hopes that the introduction of vaccines will help revitalize air travel. The airline expects to reach the capacity level of 2019 by the middle of the year.

“Using vaccines to reduce the total number of Covid cases should lead to more confidence in the traveling public and easing restrictions,” Christie said.

The turnaround will take some time.

Spirit and other airlines saw weaker than expected demand as Covid cases increased late last year and early 2021, and vaccine spreading began slowly. New travel restrictions like the Covid test requirements for international flights to the US also affected bookings.

Helane Becker, airline analyst at Cowen & Co., predicted that Spirit’s first-quarter sales will decrease 46% from pre-pandemic levels, and estimated a lower loss per share in 2021 than previously expected, in part is due to higher costs associated with preparing for growth during recovery. “

Spirit’s shares fell more than 8% to $ 30.01 on Thursday, but the share price still rose nearly 23% that year, more than most U.S. airlines.

Late Thursday, the House Financial Services Committee made a proposal for additional $ 14 billion wage support for airlines that have already received $ 40 billion from the government to pay workers during the pandemic. The new round of relief would oblige airlines to keep their workforce through September 30 and would be part of the Biden government’s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Unions, American Airlines and United Airlines have backed another round of relief as the threat of new vacation days for up to 27,000 employees if the current package expires after March 31.

When asked if he is supporting additional aid even though the airline is hiring, Christie said, “Our industry has to be fair in all cases, so there cannot be selective aid. To the extent that the government decides to either accept the existing one expand program or modify, then I think it is to be expected that all airlines will benefit from there. “

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Robert Dunfee