Spirit Airlines replaces CEO
Stock sank as bigger rivals prevailed.
new york» Spirit Airlines Inc. replaced CEO Ben Baldanza after a year in which the low-fare carrier’s stock sank under pressure from bigger rivals. Robert Fornaro was named president and CEO, effective immediately, the Miramar, Fla.-based airline said Baldanza Tuesday.
Fornaro, 62, has been a Spirit director since May 2014 and was AirTran’s president and CEO for more than three years until May 2011. He also has been an executive at US Airways and Northwest Airlines.
Investors had soured on Baldanza as the carrier continued to miss analysts’ financial estimates and its stock fell behind the industry, said Adam Hackel, an associate analyst at Sterne Agee CRT. Spirit fell 47 percent last year, compared with a 4.6 percent decline for the Bloomberg U.S. Airlines Index.
“I think that with the stock down the way it was, underperforming the group, people get fed up,” he said.
Shares climbed 6.8 percent to $41.86 at 11:23 a.m. in New York. The stock advanced as much as 7.5 percent, the most intraday since Jan. 22, 2015.
A potential merger of Spirit and another ultra-lowcost carrier, Denver-based Frontier Airlines, is more likely under Fornaro than under Baldanza, although not in the near term, Savanthi Syth, an analyst at Raymond James Financial, said.
Frontier is owned by private-equity firm Indigo Partners, which formerly owned Spirit.
Speculation about a merger with Frontier has circulated for at least 18 months, and Baldanza has rejected the idea, said Spirit spokesman Paul Berry.
“Many times he has said there are no plans to merge with Frontier and that our growth was going to be organically, instead of acquiring another airline,” Berry said.
Spirit has expanded rapidly in recently years as an ultra-low-cost carrier, advertising “bare-bones” fares and collecting much of its revenue through fees for extra legroom, bags, refreshments and printed boarding passes.