NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It just seems as if Virgin America ( VA) got the timing right because the San Francisco-based airline is going public at one of the best times in the history of the airline industry.
The initial offering price for the airlines $23 a share. An hour after the opening bell, shares were trading at $29.20.
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The airline industry has consolidated, discovered ancillary fees, committed to capacity discipline and watched its stocks soar, and on Friday CEO David Cush rang the opening bell at the Nasdaq. Then Virgin America began trading after raising $306 million in its IPO.
"It's a good day," Cush said in an interview Friday morning. "We've been working hard to get to this point. We feel fortunate that the markets are cooperating."
Virgin America first flew in 2007. Once it began flying, the carrier encountered rising fuel prices, a bad economy and the usual intense competition on the trans-continental routes it initially targeted.
"We started at the worst possible time you could start an airline -- at a commodities bubble, greeted by the great recession," Cush said. "We fought through some difficult times. We were always confident in the model, and once the economy stabilized, we could grow quickly, which is always expensive. But we saw the routes were profitable and we knew the network would respond."
Virgin is often compared to JetBlue (JBLU) , given its big city hub, its Airbus A320 fleet and its effort to offer a leisure experience at coach prices. But Cush noted that JetBlue "is a leisure airline, while we are a business airline" and said Virgin enjoys a 25% premium to JetBlue in revenue per available seat mile.
Additionally, Virgin will not follow JetBlue into a second aircraft type, he said.
The comparison Cush seems to like best is with Spirit (SAVE) , not surprisingly, since Spirit shares have risen 389% over the past three years.
Among airlines, "We probably resemble Spirit the most, from a production standpoint, although our product is clearly different," Cush said. "Spirit has a single-fleet type, flies point to point and stayed true to its low-cost model."
He said he will not emulate Spirit's 30% growth rate -- even though Wall Street loves growth.
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