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Earnings Climb at UAL

Quarterly profits are better than expected.

Updated from 10:40 a.m. EDT



reported strong third-quarter results Tuesday and said it is moving quickly to spin off its maintenance business.

"We've got a lot of interest, a lot of people are looking at it," said Chief Financial Officer Jake Brace, on a conference call. He said the business has growth potential, and "we think it makes sense to have a third party that could invest the money to grow the business."

Timing is unpredictable "because we are going to have to engage labor in a discussion" that will likely occur in the first quarter, Brace said.

UAL, the parent of United Airlines, is also studying whether to shed its frequent-flier plan, but Brace said the airline has not yet developed a profit and loss statement, as it has for the maintenance operation. As a result, "we don't have anything to talk about

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although there are people ringing my phone, because they want to talk about it," he said.

In the third quarter, the second-largest airline said adjusted profit rose by 81%. Earnings excluding special items totaled $295 million, or $1.96 a share. Analysts had estimated $1.88. Revenue was $5.53 billion, up 6.8% and about $150 million better than expected.

Once all items were counted, UAL earned $334 million, or $2.21 a share, in the latest quarter, up from last year's $190 million and $1.30 a share.

The improvement reflected capacity discipline and aggressive revenue management, said Executive Vice President John Tague. "For far too long, this industry has deployed capacity based on a slavish belief in margin economics," he said. "Our observation over the last few years is that marginal capacity pollutes the entire pricing curve."

Tague said current quarter demand remains robust.

In the third quarter, consolidated passenger revenue per available seat mile, excluding special items, grew by 8.2%. Mainline passenger RASM was up 9.7%, with gains ranging from 9% in North America to 12.2% across the Atlantic. Mainline capacity decreased by 1.5%, including a 4.6% domestic decrease and a 3.2% international increase.

Meanwhile, mainline cost per available seat mile, excluding fuel and special items, climbed 5.8%.