Despite a volatile economy and a $360 million third-quarter adjusted loss, American Airlines parent AMR ( AMR) said Wednesday it has ordered 42 Boeing ( BA) 787 jets and has options for 58 more.

"This is a difficult decision in these incredibly volatile times, but it is fundamental to the long-term strategy of the company, and we felt it was a wise decision to make," said Dan Garton, executive vice president for marketing, in an interview.

"Airlines are often criticized for buying at the peak and having the airplanes delivered four years later, for buying when things are great and then having the deliveries when things are bad," he said.

The order has a book value of $20 billion, but airlines invariably pay less than book value for new aircraft. Garton said American is not concerned about financing, since the first delivery is four years off. "It's very likely there will be some slippage to the original schedule," given delays in the 787 program and the ongoing strike at Boeing.

While it's rare for a carrier to acknowledge that an order might not be on schedule the day it's placed, Garton noted that "it's not ideal to enter into an agreement when you have uncertainty, but it's a reality we have to face." The planes would replace aging widebodies in the American fleet, including Airbus 300s, as well as 767s and 777s.

The first 42 deliveries are scheduled for 2012 to 2018, with the 58 option deliveries tentatively planned for 2015 to 2020. The deal is contingent on American reaching an agreement with its pilots to fly the aircraft.

Meanwhile, AMR said its third-quarter loss resulted primarily from a fuel bill that was $1.1 billion higher than in the same quarter a year earlier. The loss was equivalent to $1.39 a share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial had estimated a loss of $1.50. Revenue rose 8% to $6.4 billion, slightly ahead of expectations.

After items were factored in, American reported a profit of $45 million, including a $432 million gain from the sale of American Beacon Advisors.

"While fuel prices have fallen from record high levels a few months ago, the economic uncertainty, and what that might mean for travel demand, is a serious concern," said CEO Gerard Arpey, in a prepared statement. "It would also be short-sighted to conclude that fuel prices, which remain volatile, are no longer a challenge."

Arpey said, however, that American is benefitting from continuing capacity-reduction efforts. Looking ahead to 2009, system capacity will be down 9% from 2007 levels and 6% from 2008. Mainline domestic capacity will be 14% lower than 2007 and 8.5% from this year.

During the quarter, mainline unit revenue rose by 10.9%. Other revenue, including sales from newly added fees, rose 14.3% to $577 million. Excluding fuel and other special items, cost per available seat mile rose by 4.3%, reflecting capacity-reduction charges, higher material and repair costs and foreign-exchange rates.

American also said it has obtained financing for 20 Boeing 737-800s scheduled for delivery in 2009.

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