International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) , the parent of British Airways, saw its shares rise to a 52-week high Friday after it posted stronger-than-expected first quarter operating profit even as passenger unit revenues slowed.

IAG said first EBIT for the three months ending in March rose 9.6% to €170 million, firmly ahead of the FactSet consensus of €131 million. Total revenues for the period, however, slipped 4.2% to €4.934 billion from the same period last year while passenger revenues fell 2.8% to €4.279 billion.

IAG shares gained 6.25% in early London trading to change hands at 606.5 pence each, the highest since January 2016, before paring that advance to around 4.9% by 11:15 BST.  The stock has rallied nearly 10% in the past two days as investors reacted to both the stronger earnings profie and news that IAG plans to cancel up to 190 million in shares, or around 8.9% of its outstanding equity capital. For the year-to-date, IAG shares have gained a staggering 37.2%.

"We're reporting an operating profit of €170 million before exceptional items which is up from €155 million compared to last year," said CEO Willie Walsh. "This is a record performance in Q1, traditionally our weakest quarter, with the improving trend in passenger unit revenue continuing."

"In March we launched LEVEL, our new longhaul low cost airline brand, which starts flights from Barcelona to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Punta Cana and Buenos Aires in June," Walsh said. "It's already been extremely successful with sales running well ahead of expectations".

Passenger unit revenues, a key metric for the industry, slowed 7.2%, the company said, while non-fuel unit costs were 3.9% lower than the same period last year.

The company said it expects to see operating profit for 2017 to show "an improvement year-on-year" afor for second quarter passenger unit revenue to show an increase on a constant currency basis.

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