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Spirit Airlines plans crew base in United stronghold Houston, its third new outpost in five months

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A Spirit Airlines aircraft takes off at La Guardia Airport.
John Nacion | LightRocket | Getty Images

Spirit Airlines said Tuesday it plans to open a crew base at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, a United Airlines hub, the latest expansion as the discounter plots growth at large airports.

Miramar, Florida-based Spirit in March announced crew bases at Delta Air Lines-dominated Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport and American Airlines hub Miami International Airport.

Spirit says it plans to have 150 pilots and 300 flight attendants based in Houston, starting this fall. The carrier and its rivals have been scrambling to staff up to meet strong travel demand and improve reliability. Last summer, Spirit said thousands of flight cancellations over a 10-day stretch cost it about $50 million.

Establishing a crew base in Houston, where it currently averages 22 departures a day, would mean staff who live in the area wouldn’t have to commute from another city, a common practice in aviation.

Spirit said it would open a maintenance facility in Houston. It already has a maintenance facility in Detroit. The carrier is scheduled to end 2022 with a fleet of 197 Airbus narrow-body jets, after getting 24 new planes this year.

The new base comes amid a bidding war for Spirit. Fellow budget carrier Frontier Airlines and Spirit announced plans to merge in February, but JetBlue Airways swooped in with a rival all-cash takeover bid in April.

While Spirit repeatedly rebuffed JetBlue, the airline has struggled to gain shareholder support for the Frontier combination, according to Frontier, and has postponed an investor vote on that deal four times to continue talks with both carriers, a sign that the Spirit-Frontier deal is under threat. It most recently scheduled a vote for July 27.

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