) --

US Airways


shares rose sharply Wednesday -- putting them up 44% for the year -- to handily beat fourth-quarter estimates. The carrier said strong demand continues in the current quarter.

Additionally, on an earnings call, CEO Doug Parker acknowledged that US Airways has hired advisers to study a potential merger with bankrupt



. But he noted that "as the results show, US Airways does not need to participate in consolidation

when we are generating financial returns that are similar to or better than our peers."

The carrier reported earnings of $21 million or 13 cents a share. Analysts surveyed by

Thomson Reuters

had estimated 2 cents. US Airways shares closed Wednesday at $7.52, up $1.11 or 17%.

Parker said US Airways has hired three merger advisers:

Millstein & Co.



(BCS) - Get Report

and the law firm of

Latham & Watkins

. Consolidation is already benefiting the industry and US Airways, he said, "of course

is always interested in studying potential value increasing scenarios."

"We anticipate that American will remain in bankruptcy for quite some time

and we will be studying the situation for quite some time," he said. Most experts believe the American bankruptcy will continue into 2013.


(DAL) - Get Report

is also reported to have hired advisers to study a merger with American, but its executives were tight-lipped on the subject on their earnings call Wednesday morning. CEO Richard Anderson would not even comment on

J.P. Morgan

(JPM) - Get Report

analyst Jamie Baker's leading question, "Where is the greatest need to beef up the Delta network?"

(Note to Delta: Default answers are the Southwest, best served from a Dallas hub, and Latin America, best served from a Miami hub.)

As for US Airways' recent financial success, Parker said the carrier now has 99% of its capacity in airports it dominates: Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington Reagan National. President Scott Kirby looked at the two southeast hubs and noted that "if you rank hubs by profitability, Charlotte and Atlanta are almost certainly in the top 10 if not the top five," partially because the catchment areas -- of regional connecting traffic -- are large.

"You don't have to be the largest global airline to be successful, but you need to be No. 1 in your local market," Kirby said. "No. 2 is a really tough place to be, competing with an airline that has a few extra connections,

which on each flight is a few extra customers. In a low-margin business, that's important. The fact that we're strong where we fly has been a key for us."

Parker noted that some other carriers also say they have put 99% of capacity into their key markets, but he noted "they haven't gotten bigger where they're strong." He may have been referring to American, which has used the 99% figure but has added capacity in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, all markets where it is the second- or third-place carrier. By contrast, in Dallas and Miami, American is a clear No. 1.

Future booking trends were also a key factor in US Airways' share price run-up. In the second week of January, typically the biggest booking week of the year, US Airways revenue was up 35% over last year, Kirby said. He noted that the carrier expects revenue per available seat mile growth around 10% -- a high number -- in January and February. In March, he said, comparisons begin to become more difficult, and the RASM increase will likely be in the high single digits. "We haven't seen any signs of a slowdown in demand," Kirby said.

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

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Ted Reed

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>To contact the writer of this article, click here:

Ted Reed