Spirit Airlines takes off at Fort Lauderdale airport, snaring No. 1 spot in May

Jun. 28--Spirit Airlines is hitting its stride at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Long a contender among a crowded field of low-fare airlines, Spirit in May led all other carriers, flying 15.3 percent of the 1.8 million people traveling through the airport last month.

Southwest Airlines was second at 13.6 percent of the traffic, and longtime leader Delta Air Lines was third at 13.3 percent.

Traffic overall rose 4.6 percent in May, led by a 21 percent surge in international passengers that were largely delivered by Spirit planes.

It was the first month that Miramar-based Spirit has been the largest carrier at Fort Lauderdale, airport officials said.

In Palm Beach County, passenger traffic was up 3.2 percent in May. Delta was the market leader with 23.3 percent of all passengers. Spirit doesn't fly to West Palm Beach.

Several factors account for the increasing passenger counts at Spirit. It has been adding destinations this year, including flights to Lima, Peru begun Wednesday. Other cities added this year include Aguadilla, Puerto Rico; St. Maarten, in the Netherlands Antilles; San Jose, Costa Rica; and Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Spirit has also drawn notice with promotional fares as low as $1 each way on certain days. The fares help attract passengers, leading to Spirit's first quarterly profit in several years. In the first quarter, Spirit had operating earnings of $12 million on revenue of $173 million, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In last year's first quarter, Spirit's operating loss was $8.3 million on revenue of $114.8 million.

Spirit also benefited in May from seasonal drawdown in capacity by some competitors. Over the first five months of 2007, Spirit was the fourth- largest carrier in Fort Lauderdale, with a 12.2 percent market share, trailing Delta, Southwest and JetBlue Airways, airport statistics show.

Staff Writer Tom Stieghorst can be reached at tstieghorst@sun-sentinel.com or 305-810-5008.

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