Spirit to relocate pilot hub: Base is headed to Florida; call center to close

Aug. 13, 2007

Aug. 11--Spirit Airlines will move its local pilot hub from Detroit to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on Oct. 1.

It also will close its Clinton Township-based reservations call center Aug. 31 and outsource customer service overseas.

The moves will not affect the 185 daily flights to and from Metro Airport in Detroit, company spokeswoman Alison Russell said Friday.

It will eliminate, however, the 130 positions at the call center and may affect the 220 pilots based in Detroit.

In addition to an administrative office, a base means flight crews begin and end their flight assignments in that city. Some pilots commute to their base city, including a number of Detroit pilots who live in New York and Atlantic City, N.J., where Spirit had previous pilot bases until they were closed several years ago.

The Miramar, Fla.-based company has 450 pilots and 2,300 employees.

In a letter to employees, Spirit President Ben Baldanza said it would be more efficient for Spirit to have all of its pilots based in south Florida. The move "helps keep our operating costs low, and low costs are necessary to be successful selling low fares," Baldanza's letter said.

"The pilots are upset about this in Detroit," Matthew Nowell, a spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association and a Ft. Lauderdale-based captain, said.

Nowell said he plans to put pressure on Spirit to ease the burden on Detroit-based pilots who will be forced to relocate or commute to Florida or consider resigning from the company.

"I will be working with the company to guarantee that these people will be able to commute from Detroit to Ft. Lauderdale," Nowell said. "People can't just up and sell a house tomorrow in the Detroit metro area. Plus, real estate in Florida is two to three times more expensive."

Russell said the airline, which was founded in Detroit in 1980 as a charter tour operator, is "working with the pilots and their families, but they can choose to live anywhere they choose."

Contact ALEJANDRO BODIPO-MEMBA at 313-222-5008 or abodipo@freepress.com

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