Fort Lauderdale-based Spirit Airlines plans to launch 14 new destinations out of its Orlando International Airport (MCO) focus city this fall, including 11 new markets in Latin America and the Caribbean, as the ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) continues its strategy to focus on core large-US and leisure markets.

The new international routes, most of which start Oct. 4, include:

Aguadilla, Puerto Rico; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Panama City, Panama; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; San Pedro Sula, Honduras; San José, Costa Rica; St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; San Salvador; and Bogota, Medellin, and Cartagena, Colombia.

Spirit also is adding service to Asheville and Greensboro, North Carolina; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

“After more than doubling service [at MCO] last year, we are so proud to be expanding there yet again,” Spirit CEO Bob Fornaro said. “Orlando is now one of our largest markets, and we have no plans on stopping our growth.” Spirit's largest market in 2017 was Fort Lauderdale, which accounted for 26% of its capacity.

The international additions fit into the airline’s strategy of connecting large origin-and-destination markets, major leisure destinations, and international markets popular with leisure travelers—including vacationers and the “visiting friends and relatives” niche. Last year, Spirit’s expansion focused mainly on medium- and long-haul domestic routes, connecting east and west coast cities as well as flying the Eastern Seaboard.

The service changes will boost Spirit’s MCO operation from 27 to 38 destinations, and up to 49 weekly flights. While Spirit has a sizable presence at MCO, its share of total passengers in the 12 months ended March 31 did not crack the top five, according to US Department of Transportation data. Southwest Airlines was the top carrier at MCO for the time period, with a 28% share, roughly double the next-largest carrier, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines. Dallas/Fort Worth-based American Airlines, New York-based JetBlue Airways and Chicago-based United Airlines—each with at least a 10% share—rounded out the top five.

Spirit’s growth, which included a 17.6% capacity boost in 2017 and projects to be 22.5% this year, fits with MCO’s expansion. The airport boosted total passengers 6.4% in 2017 to a record 44.6 million passengers as carriers added more than 3 million seats. International traffic accounted for 5.9 million passengers, or 13.4%.

First-quarter results show the momentum has continued, as total passenger traffic topped 12 million, a 7.8% jump, while international service was up nearly 14%.

The surge has led MCO—already Florida’s busiest airport as measured by passengers—to expand on existing expansion plans. Last month, its board approved adding three new gates to its South Terminal Complex project Phase 1, which was approved for 16 gates. The new, 19-gate facility is slated to open in early 2021 and will house JetBlue—which is slated to have 14 gates—and a dozen or so other carriers, the airport authority said. MCO last month approved both domestic and international operations from the new terminal, boosting its versatility and paving the way for JetBlue’s relocation and expansion from 70 to perhaps 100 daily MCO departures.

Sean Broderick, sean.broderick@aviationweek.com