) -- As the airline industry recovers from recession,


(DAL) - Get Report

is seeing "revenue strength above our expectations" during the current quarter, said CFO Hank Halter.

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Halter spoke Wednesday at an investor conference. He said the carrier is seeing continuing gradual improvements in revenue per available seat mile, a key financial measure for airlines. RASM was down 23% in June and down 11% in October, with single digit deterioration in November. Halter said the number will likely turn positive next year, "likely in the front half of 2010."

Meanwhile, he said, the carrier has benefitted from synergies enabled by its 2008 merger with


, which Halter called "the smoothest merger in airline history." It was apparently the first time a Delta executive publicly issued such a strong endorsement of the merger process.

Halter noted that Delta's maintenance business produces about $500 million annually in revenue, performing maintenance for other operators, making it the largest airline-operated third-party maintenance operation in the United States.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.