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Spirit Airlines files to go public

By Aaron Smith, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Spirit Airlines Inc. is going public.

The airline, based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering.

The S-1 filing does not specify the number of shares it plans to sell or assign them a value, but it did say that it plans to use the proceeds to pay off some $264 million in debt.

"The IPO will strengthen their position and, if completed, will demonstrate to the market and the industry that they are a serious airline," said Ray Neidl, airline analyst with the Maxim Group. "To their credit, they weathered the past 2 years -- which were extremely challenging due first to runaway fuel prices, and then to the challenging economy."

The company has several underwriters, including Citi (C, Fortune 500), JPMorgan Stanley (JPM, Fortune 500), Barclays Capital (BCS) and Dahlman Rose & Co. The airline, led by Chief Executive Officer Ben Baldanza, said that its revenue for 2009 totaled $700 million.

Spirit describes itself as "an ultra low-cost, low-fare airline" that provides flights between South Florida and the Caribbean and Latin America. The airline said that its average base fare was $83 during the first six months of 2010, "and we regularly offer promotional base fares of $9 or less."

The airline said it has reduced base fares by 40% since 2007, "with the goal of stimulating additional passenger demand," while adding additional fees for baggage and seat selection services.

This practice has become common in the airline industry over the last couple years, as airlines struggled with the recession and volatile fuel prices. Most airlines began charging additional fees for services that once came for free, such as checked luggage, non-alcoholic drinks and food.

And Spirit made it crystal clear in its filing that these new fees are not going away, but it also said that it intends to continuing lowering air fares.

Harlan Pratt, a finance professor who covers the airline industry at Northeastern University's College of Business Administration in Boston, referred to Spirit as "the American Ryanair " -- a reference to the low-cost Irish airline that relies heavily on fees. He said this distinction could give Spirit a competitive edge.

"We're going to see an upward escalation in airfares, and that gives Spirit the opportunity to become the carrier that's known for cheap air fares," he said. To top of page

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