AirTran Swings to Loss

The discount airline is hit by rising fuel costs.
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AirTran

(AAI)

swung to a loss in the first quarter, as high fuel costs drove up expenses at the low-cost airline.

The Orlando, Fla.-based company reported a first-quarter loss of $8 million, or 9 cents a share. That compares with net income of $4.1 million, or 5 cents a share, a year earlier and is a penny wider than the 8 cent-a-share average analyst estimate from Thomson First Call.

Revenue jumped 24.2% to $299.7 million in the latest quarter and was well ahead of the $284.9 million consensus. Revenue growth was driven by the airline's 24.1% capacity increase and by a 27.7% jump in passenger traffic. But stiff price competition caused AirTran's unit revenue to fall 0.2% from a year earlier. The average percentage of seats filled on the airline's planes increased 2 points to 70.5%.

"The first quarter challenged us on many fronts, as we grew revenues and capacity while contending with escalating fuel prices," said Joe Leonard, the company's CEO. "Nevertheless, we were able to increase our load factor compared to the prior year. I am proud of the outstanding efforts put forth by our crew members to serve a record number of passengers during the first quarter."

The surge in oil prices during the first quarter has hurt airlines. At AirTran, it caused unit costs to rise 7.7%. Excluding fuel, unit costs rose 0.3%.

The company's shares finished Monday's session up 7 cents at $8.75.