American Airlines Is Lifting Off as the Industry Makes a Comeback

After this tumultuous year, it might be worth remembering that though America has been through crises and suffered setbacks, those who got rich stayed focused, figured out which companies had the strongest prospects and stuck with them long term.

The airline business has always been more volatile than most, as the profits depend on hard-to-predict factors such as customer demand for travel, fuel prices and negotiations with labor unions. But with the economy still refusing to slip into recession, the prospects for the industry are looking up.

The International Air Transport Association recently said that it expects the global airline industry to make a net profit next year of $29.8 billion, and the forecast for total revenue of $736 billion, represents a 4.1% net profit margin.

Alexandre de Juniac, the IATA's chief executive and director general, said that the past few years have produced some of the most impressive profit performances in the industry's history, even amid the uncertainty.

But he also said that "controlling costs is still a constant battle in our hyper-competitive industry."

The group's look back at 2016 found that "many years of hard work in restructuring and re-engineering the business, the industry is also more resilient."

Profits are not evenly spread around the world, however. The strongest performers are those in North America.

So which of the major U.S. carriers is best positioned to capitalize on this trend?

Delta Air Lines and United Continental Holdings are both solid companies that have delivered strong results in the past. But American Airlines (AAL) seems to be out front.

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