In the Hot Seat: Ben Baldanza

Ben Baldanza left US Airways, where he was senior vice president of marketing and planning, to become Spirits president and COO in January. Senior editor Andrew Compart talked to Baldanza about the transition and his vision for the low-cost carrier.


Q: Why did you leave US Airways?

A: I saw a huge opportunity at Spirit. The winners a couple of years from now are going to be the ones that can keep costs most under control and do the right things in marketing. As we transition from the older MD-80s into the new Airbus fleet, well take our costs even lower, and I believe by 2007 well be the lowest-cost airline in the U.S.

Q: A lot of what you talk about for Spirit involves marketing and branding. What do you have to do in that regard?

A: Bringing on new $30 million airplanes with a two-class product gives us a platform to upgrade who and what Spirit is to its customers. We also fly to international destinations our low-cost competitors typically dont fly to.

Our business plan includes serving more and more international destinations. By 2007 we expect roughly half our revenues will come from international operations.

Q: Where do you plan to go?

A: We clearly have a goal to be the leading low-cost carrier to Latin America and the Caribbean, although at some point I expect well want to serve Canada, as well. Canadians go to Latin America and the Caribbean, so it will be important for us to take them there.

Q: Spirit has 33 aircraft now. How big can your fleet get?

A: We could have 60 to 90 by the end of the decade.

Q: How is Spirit dealing with high fuel prices?

A: Were accelerating the transition of the fleet. We hope to be completely out of the MD-80s by early 2007. Were rebuilding our business model to make money at $55 a barrel.

Q: With your redesigned Web site, do you plan changes in distribution?

A: We sell about 70% direct. Because our business model, however, suggests were going to fly more internationally, we have to think carefully about our distribution, to ensure we are realistic with the distribution models of the international environment. As we expand in the world, fly maybe to more ethnic-type markets, where some people still traditionally pay cash or buy from brick-and-mortar distributors, we just want to be cognizant of how the market buys.

Q: How does Miramar, Fla., compare with Washington, D.C.? Have you been through a summer in Florida yet?

A: Not yet, but I lived in Houston for five years, and I lived in the tropics in Central America for a while. So I think I can take the heat.

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