Sun Country Chief Jude Bricker made the case for why low-cost carriers are the real growth story in aviation. "Our cost structure isn't dependent on adding new airplanes or keeping our pilots junior." Take that, Scott Kirby.
Jude Bricker, CEO of Sun Country Airlines, said it’s premature to reach definite conclusions regarding the airline industry seven months into its recovery, especially pertaining to business travel’s ongoing rebound.
But he maintains flying cargo will be an important part of the business for the low-cost carrier because it enables the company to reduce its peak and off-peak schedules.
“Think of a spectrum of 365 days of operating opportunities,” Bricker said in discussion with Skift Editor-at-Large Brian Sumers at Skift Global Forum on Wednesday in Dallas.
“There’s the obvious stuff (where) everybody makes money in all environments, starting with the Sunday after Thanksgiving. There’s like 100 awesome days in every airline’s calendar. And then there’s 100 really crappy ones.”
Bricker then added that the challenges Sun Country faced was that it couldn’t add capacity to what he described as those awesome days without decreasing it on those off-peak days.
“Cargo is the solution to that because it’s absolutely flat,” he said. Sun Country entered into a deal with Amazon in late 2019 to fly dedicated cargo aircraft. “The fundamental reason we went into it is still very valuable today. And it helps us de-peak the schedule.”
Bricker also touched on Sun Country’s decision to schedule more flights out of Minneapolis, a city that also serves as a hub for Delta Air Lines. “We’re trying to turn Minneapolis into a two airline market,” he said. “If you pay with our own money, you fly with Sun Country. If you fly on a corporate contract, you fly Delta.”
Bricker believes Minneapolis is a market where Sun Country can makes inroads with leisure travelers. “Minnesotans don’t have a real good option for non-stop travel to many of these destinations at low fares,” he said, citing Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, carriers across the U.S. have been grappling with pilot shortages, but Bricker doesn’t see that a major concern for Sun Country. When asked if the carrier was getting the pilots it needs, Bricker said Sun Country is getting plenty of them, adding all of its new pilot classes are full.
“If you wanted to work with us as a pilot, I probably couldn’t put you in a class for the next months.”
Ponzi Scheme? What Ponzi Scheme!
But before Bricker discussed in depth issues pertaining to Sun Country’s business operations, he addressed a question Sumers posed about United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby describing ultra low-cost carriers.
“(Kirby) said if companies like yours can’t grow every year, they’re not going to be able to outrun their costs, and they’re not going to be low cost. Are you running a Ponzi scheme?” Sumers asked.
Bricker’s response? “Scott has disparaged the (ultra low-cost carrier space) for many years,” he said after chuckling. “One, no! … In the case of Sun Country, we’re a mature maintenance organization. We buy used airplanes. Our cost structure isn’t dependent on adding new airplanes or keeping our pilots junior.”
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Photo credit: Sun Country CEO Jude Bricker in discussion with Skift Editor-at-Large Brian Sumers Dylan Pacholek / Skift