Sun Country Airlines reported the highest completion factor for the industry in the fourth quarter after a data system glitch a year earlier resulted in a wave of flight cancellations around the holidays.
Over the important holiday travel season, Minneapolis-based Sun Country said it produced a completion factor of 99.3%. Airline executives in a call Friday morning with analysts expressed optimism based on bookings for the first quarter, typically the strongest for the leisure carrier.
"We're really excited about where we're headed," Jude Bricker, Sun Country's chief executive, said during the call. "It's good to kind of get some of the challenges of the last year behind us and focus on growth and execution."
During the last week of 2021, a problem with a key computer system led Sun Country to cancel about 15% of flights on two consecutive days. The carrier was forced to conduct a data system update at that time to resolve the issue.
To avoid similar meltdowns, Sun Country has transitioned some data to the cloud, worked through business continuity plans and beefed up contingency plans, an executive has said.
Despite higher fuel prices and a year that began with the fast-spreading omicron COVID-19 variant, Sun Country reported that year-over-year revenue grew nearly 44% to $894.4 million — a record for the carrier.
For the fourth quarter ending Dec. 31, earnings per share rose 12 cents versus a loss of 2 cents a year ago, while operating revenue rose about 32% to $227 million.
As airlines ramp up training of new staff to meet pent-up pandemic demand, Sun Country reported ending the year with 571 pilots, which is 25% higher than 2021.
In other highlights, the airline:
- Announced 15 new nonstop routes from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport beginning in the summer of 2023. Twelve new destinations such as Colorado Springs; Columbus, Ohio, and Kansas City are featured as the airline continues to expand its network.
- Began providing service to Eau Claire, Wis., in December under an essential air service agreement awarded by the Department of Transportation.
- Increased flying for Caesars Entertainment in October under an existing charter agreement.
- As of the end of January, the $25 million accelerated share repurchase program had been completed. The company repurchased approximately 1.4 million shares at an average price of $18.23. The company still has $25 million authorized by the board of directors available for share repurchases.
- Added two new board members: Gail Peterson, executive vice president of global marketing & communications for Ecolab Inc., and Jennifer Vogel, retired general counsel of Continental Airlines.
At market close Friday, Sun Country's stock rose to $21.37 a share. The stock had ranged from $13.25 to $30.61 over the previous year.