Delta Air Lines ( DAL) beat expectations for the first quarter and said it will be profitable this year, despite "significant pressure" on revenue due to the global recession.

Excluding special items, the carrier lost $693 million, or 84 cents a share, in the quarter. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had estimated a loss of $1.01. Revenue was $6.7 billion, in line with estimates. Including items, the loss was $794 million, or 96 cents a share.

"Despite signs of stabilization in recent demand trends, we expect the revenue environment to continue to be under significant pressure for the remainder of the year," said President Ed Bastian, in a prepared statement. "We believe lower fuel prices, combined with a focus on accelerating merger synergies and other initiatives will more than offset the revenue decline."

The results mean that both AMR ( AMR) and Delta, the world's two biggest airlines, beat expectations for first-quarter results, although both reported losses and cited difficult conditions going forward.

Delta CFO Hank Halter noted that "despite a decline in our expected revenue outlook, we continue to project a profit for the year, as well as grow our unrestricted liquidity to more than $6 billion by the end of the year." As of March 31, Delta had $5 billion in unrestricted funds, including $4.5 billion in cash.

Cargo revenue, particularly hard hit, fell by 44%, or $146 million. Delta announced that on Dec. 31, it will ground the Northwest fleet of 14 Boeing 747-200 freighters.

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