UAL

(UAL) - Get Report

, the parent company of United Airlines, said it lost $510 million in the first quarter, bringing the total loss of the three largest carriers to a staggering $1.4 billion for the first three months of the year.

"We certainly are seeing signs that our industry's situation is beginning to improve, but there is still a long way to go," John Creighton, chief executive of UAL, said in a statement.

UAL is the second-largest airline in terms of revenue. Earlier in the week, the largest carrier,

AMR

(AMR)

, owner of American Airlines, had a loss of $575 million. The third-biggest airline,

Delta Air Lines

(DAL) - Get Report

, posted a loss of $354 million.

As the industry continues reeling in the aftermath of Sept. 11, smaller carriers have posted steep losses too. For example,

America West

(AWA)

said on Friday that it lost $358.3 million, or $10.62 a share, in the first quarter.

Looking for Lift

America West's loss included a big charge for a change in accounting for goodwill. Even without the charge, the company still would have lost money.

"America West's first quarter results reflect the severe economic downturn facing the airline industry," said Douglas Parker, chief executive of America West, in a statement.

While airlines have been optimistic about the future, their key metrics continue to experience turbulence. UAL's available seat miles, a measure of seats available for purchase, fell 19% to 34.2 billion in the first quarter from the same period a year ago as the carrier reduced capacity to meet lower demand. The airline flew 24.7 billion revenue passenger miles in the first quarter, down 14% from last year, but load factor rose to 72.2% from 68.3%.

UAL's results included various items, among them a $52 million charge for the closure of Avolar, a subsidiary it used for selling fractional ownership in business aircraft. Excluding those items, UAL lost $487 million, or $8.81 a share, compared with a loss of $305 million, or $5.82 a share, a year ago.

Analysts expected UAL to lose $10.24 a share, according to Thomson Financial/First Call.

Creighton said that he remains focused on restoring the airline's financial stability, a goal that he set out to achieve when he took the CEO position last fall.

UAL's cash burn fell to $5 million a day in the first quarter from $10 million in the previous quarter. The company ended the quarter with a cash balance of $2.9 billion, a $300 million sequential improvement.

Creighton said labor problems in the quarter hindered its recovery. "Complications with negotiating open labor contracts have impeded our progress on reducing salary and other operating costs," he said. "Even though this has slowed us down, we'll continue working to get our costs in line with revenue."