America West

(AWA)

joined other U.S. airlines in swinging to a loss during the fourth quarter as surging fuel costs erased profits, but the carrier still managed to beat analysts' expectations.

The Phoenix-based carrier had a net loss of $49.7 million, or $1.38 a share, vs. a profit of $6.8 million, or 13 cents a share, for the same period last year. Excluding items, the company lost $47.8 million, or $1.32 a share, vs. a profit of $10.4 million, or 20 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue increased 2.8% to $578.5 million.

Analysts expected the airline to lose $1.50 a share on revenue of $583.4 million, according to Thomson First Call.

The airline said operating costs as measured by available seat miles increased 0.6%, primarily because of a 49.6% rise in fuel prices. Overall, fuel added $50.0 million to operating costs.

On the positive side, revenue passenger miles, or RPMs, a key metric of profitability, rose 11.3%, outpacing an 8.6% capacity increase, as measured by available seat miles, or ASMs.

"Our fourth-quarter results reflect the continued difficulties facing our industry," the airline said, adding: "At this point, it appears 2005 will be another difficult year for the industry. Fuel prices are projected to remain high and despite the significant difficulties facing many carriers, a material reduction in domestic capacity has not yet occurred."

The company said it expects a loss in the first quarter of 2005. The consensus forecast is for a loss of $1.22 a share.

AMR

(AMR)

,

Delta Air Lines

(DAL) - Get Report

,

Northwest Airlines

(NWAC)

and

Continental Airlines

(CAL) - Get Report

also reported big losses for the quarter.

Southwest Airlines

(LUV) - Get Report

was the only major carrier to report a profit.

America West shares rose 17 cents, or 3.6%, to $4.85, in premarket trading.