Sun Country Plans Rare Airline IPO

Minneapolis-based Sun Country Airlines has chosen now, during the airline industry’s worst-ever crisis, to go public. The carrier filed its intent to offer shares with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on February 8, hoping to raise at least $100 million.

The airline offered few details on its plans, with the number of shares and their price to be determined. Barclays, Morgan Stanley, and Deutsche Bank, together with Sun Country’s current owner, Apollo Global Management, are underwriting the offering.

Read Skift’s Sun Country Coverage: Sun Country: Inside America’s Most Unusual Airline

Apollo signaled its intention to float Sun Country more than year ago. At the time, CEO Jude Bricker told Skift the company saw a window of opportunity to go public and “didn’t want to miss it.”

Since then, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic struck and brought the airline industry to its knees. The U.S. government has funneled more than $40 billion in aid to the industry since last March, with more possibly coming.

Sun Country operates mainly leisure routes from its base in Minneapolis to warm-weather and beach destinations.  Sun Country has weathered the pandemic better than most airlines thanks to a cargo deal it struck with Amazon in late 2019.

And this agreement has buoyed Sun Country as other airlines have struggled since the Covid-19 pandemic began, The carrier originally agreed to operate 10 cargo aircraft for Amazon, but added two more last year, as e-commerce demand escalated in 2020, Sun Country said in its filing with the SEC. The cargo deal generated more than $17 million in revenue for the Minneapolis-based airline in the first nine months of last year. Sun Country did not report any cargo revenue in 2018-2019, prior to its deal with Amazon. “The [Amazon deal] has generated consistent positive cash flows through the Covid-19-induced downturn,” the company noted in the filing.

Sun Country took more than $62 million in federal aid through the CARES Act and the subsequent coronavirus fiscal aid package. The carrier reported an operating margin of 7.4 percent for the first nine months of last year, which it achieved, in part, by cutting costs once the pandemic began. It is pinning much of its hopes on an airline industry rebound in the second half of the year on widespread distribution of Covid-19 vaccines and the ensuing return of travel demand.

But Sun Country acknowledged that its hopes for a rebound are not without risks. “We are depending upon a successful Covid-19 vaccine and significant uptake by the general public in order to normalize economic conditions, the airline industry, and our business operations, and to realize our planned financial and growth plans and business strategy,” Sun Country said in its SEC filing.

New quarantines or travel restrictions, the failure of vaccines to contain the disease, and the possible requirement to test domestic travelers for Covid-19 also could affect the company’s plans, the carrier added. Furthermore, Sun Country generates a significant amount of revenue from its charter operations, especially with sports teams. More cancellations of sporting events will hit its bottom line, the company said.

Sun Country also is particularly at risk if a recession lingers after the pandemic recedes. Its passengers are mainly price-conscious leisure travelers, who are more likely to put off or cancel trips if their discretionary income falls.

The last major airline to go public was Virgin America in 2014, although regional carrier Mesa Airlines floated its shares in 2018.

UPDATED: This story has been updated with more information on Sun Country’s planned public offering.

Photo Credit: Tiny Sun Country airlines is planning to take its operations public in an IPO. Sun Country Airlines

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