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Delta Air Lines   (DAL - Get Report) posted stronger-than-expected third-quarter earnings and said it would accelerate near-term hiring to meet a "surprise" increase in demand. 

Delta said adjusted earnings for the three months ended in September came in at $2.32 per share, up 29% from the same period last year and 5 cents ahead of the Street consensus forecast. Group net revenues, Delta said, rose 6.5% to $12.6 billion, largely in line with analysts' estimates.

The carrier said it sees current quarter earnings in the region of $1.20 to $1.50 per share, and expects revenues to grow by more than 5% from the prior year period. Looking into the 2019 fiscal year, Delta has earnings guidance in a range of $6.75 to $7.25 per share and a full-year pre-tax profit margin improvement of between 14.5% and 16.5%.

"Our powerful brand and competitive strengths drove another quarter of great results for our people, customers and owners. Our people bring our brand to life on every flight and I'm pleased to recognize their outstanding efforts with over $1 billion in profit sharing accrued so far this year," said CEO Ed Bastian. "Demand for the Delta product remains healthy, positioning the company for a strong close to 2019 with expectations for more than 20% earnings growth, over $4 billion in free cash flow and a 5th year of pre-tax earnings over $5 billion."

Delta shares ended the session 1.52% lower at $53.410 each Thursday,  in trading Thursday, a move that trimmed their year-to-date gain to around 6.41%.

Bastian also told CNBC Thursday that it might take "longer than people think" for Boeing's (BA - Get Report) troubled 727 MAX jet to return to service, and suggested it may be brought back into the carrier's schedule in January of next year, a timetable that echoes a similar assessment from rival American Airlines Group (AAL) .

Last week, Delta steered investors into today's third quarter earnings release with September activity data that showed overall system capacity rose around 4% from last year, the company said, while the adjusted growth for TRASM, a key industry metric that measures revenues for available seat miles, was pegged at 2.5%.