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Sun Country Airlines plans growth after stellar Nasdaq debut

(Reuters) - U.S. budget carrier Sun Country Airlines Holdings Inc plans to expand its fleet, staff and network this year after Wednesday’s successful stock market debut, Chief Executive Jude Bricker told Reuters.

Sun Country, backed by private-equity firm Apollo Global Management Inc, raised $218.2 million in its initial public offering and shares closed 51.6% higher at $36.38 on their first day on the Nasdaq.

The debut comes as U.S. airlines begin to emerge from a pandemic-driven crisis that has opened doors for carriers like Sun Country catering to domestic leisure travel, which is rebounding quicker than business and international travel, particularly as more people receive COVID-19 vaccines.

“Right now everything is flashing green,” Bricker said in an interview.

After surviving 2020 largely thanks to air cargo services for Amazon.com Inc, Sun Country is now focusing growth on its passenger and charter business, with plans to increase its fleet to 50 aircraft from 31 by 2023.

Purchases could happen quicker thanks to a decline of around 25% in the prices of second-hand jets since the onset of the pandemic, Chief Financial Officer Dave Davis said.

Minnesota-based Sun Country, which has based its business model around mid-life Boeing Co 737 NGs and flights scheduled on peak travel days, expanded services in January with six new routes and nine new airports.

It is hiring about 10 new pilots a month and may hire more flight attendants ahead of Thanksgiving as it adds aircraft to its fleet, Bricker said.

Founded in 1982 by Jim Olsen and a small group of pilots and flight attendants, Sun Country offers affordable flights and vacation packages to destinations across the United States, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. It was bought by Apollo in 2017.

The company also plans to use a portion of the IPO proceeds to repay a loan it took from the U.S. government under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Sun Country rival Frontier Group Holdings Inc also filed to go public earlier this month.

Barclays, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank Securities, Goldman Sachs and Nomura were the underwriters for Sun Country’s offering.

Reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago and Niket Nishant in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Matthew Lewis

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