Expanding Spirit Airlines says it has bought 30 new Airbus A319 jets to support continuing growth at its Fort Lauderdale hub.

The privately held carrier says it will take delivery of the 144-seat airplanes between 2009 and 2013. The aircraft will be powered by V2500 engines from International Aero Engines. Financing, likely to be through sale-leaseback arrangements, has not yet been arranged.

"Our business model is highly focused on serving the Caribbean and Latin American, and we're going to be adding more of the same," said CEO Ben Baldanza, in an interview. "We're growing because we bring something competitors don't have: low fares to the Caribbean. But one of the risks was that we didn't have enough equipment coming in at the right price."

Baldanza says the new order augments an existing order for 14 airplanes, so that Spirit now has 44 planes on order. The airline currently flies six A321s, which seat 198 passengers, and 27 A319s. It serves 15 Caribbean destinations and 12 domestic destinations from Fort Lauderdale International Airport, where it is the second largest carrier after Southwest ( LUV). Fort Lauderdale is the origin or destination airport for 70% of Spirit's passengers.

This spring, Spirit will begin service to Port-au-Prince; Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, and St. Maarten. It has also filed to begin flying to Caracas.

Spirit lost tens of millions of dollars in 2006, Baldanza said, as it shed a fleet of aging MD-80 jets. It paid to operate two types of aircraft, while training its crews on the Airbus. Now the airline's cost per available seat mile is around 5 cents, he says, adding: "We were investing in the transition of airplanes to set ourselves up for growth in 2007."

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