AirTran's Profit Hints at Signs of Recovery

AirTran ( AAI) became the first major airline to report a first-quarter profit.

The carrier reported net income of $28.7 million, or 21 cents a share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had estimated earnings of 4 cents. Revenue was $542 million; analysts had estimated $535 million. In the same period a year earlier, AirTran lost $35.3 million, or 38 cents a share.

"Our ability to report a profit today is rooted in the difficult decisions we made last year," said CEO Bob Fornaro, in a prepared statement. "AirTran Airways was among the first airlines to react to the changing economic environment and we are among the first to show signs of recovery."

The carrier said it benefited from lower fuel prices, low costs and fleet and route network adjustments, which led to the best first quarter in its history in terms of earnings and load factor, which reached 76.3%. AirTran boosted Milwaukee flights by 50% year over year, with more than 30 daily departures planned for the summer, and added new destinations from Orlando, Fla., which will have more than 60 daily departures to 36 cities on peak days.

During the quarter, passenger revenue per available seat mile fell by 7.6%. On the cost side, adjusted cost per available seat mile excluding fuel rose 6.8% to 6.73 cents. Fuel costs declined by 50.5% on a 7.2% capacity reduction.

Looking ahead to the second quarter, AirTran said cost per available seat mile, excluding fuel, will increase by 8.5% to 9.5%, while passenger revenue per available seat mile will decline by 2% to 4% and capacity will decline by 7%.

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