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BTS: Airlines Report Fourth Quarterly Loss Margin In A Row

Q3 2008 Results Are In, And They're Not Good

The six largest network airlines, as a group, reported an operating loss margin of 5.8 percent in the third quarter of 2008, the fourth consecutive quarterly loss margin since the group reported a profit margin in the third quarter of 2007, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) of the US Department of Transportation reported Monday in a release of preliminary data.

BTS reported five of the six reporting network carriers, most of the industry's largest carriers, reported an operating loss margin in the July-to-September period Only Delta Air Lines reported an operating profit. Operating margin measures profit or loss as a percentage of the airline's total operating revenue.

Alaska Airlines, a network airline and Allegiant Airlines, a low-cost airline, requested confidentiality beginning with their second quarter 2008 financial reports. Mesa Airlines requested confidentiality for its third quarter 2008 financial report. The numbers are being withheld pending a decision on their motions.

Low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines failed to file its third quarter financial data with BTS. The failure to file was referred to the Department's Office of General Counsel for review.

The six reporting network carriers spent 36.1 percent of their operating expenses in the third quarter of 2008 on fuel, compared to 13.6 percent five years earlier in the third quarter of 2003. The six reporting network carriers spent 6.20 cents per available seat-mile (ASM) for fuel in the third quarter of 2008, up from 1.47 cents per ASM in the third quarter of 2003. Regional airlines Atlantic Southeast, Comair and American Eagle Airlines spent the most for fuel per ASM while regional airlines ExpressJet Airlines and SkyWest and low-cost airline Southwest Airlines spent the least.

The total industry collected $349.8 million in excess baggage fees in the third quarter of 2008, up from $178.2 million in the second quarter and $122.4 million in the third quarter of 2007.

The six reporting network carriers posted a loss margin of 5.8 percent in the third quarter with a combined operating loss of $1.692 billion. In the third quarter of 2007, the seven network carriers reported an operating profit margin of 8.8 percent with a combined profit of $2.387 billion.            

The top three operating profit margins were reported by regional carriers Comair, SkyWest Airlines and Atlantic Southeast Airlines. Network carriers US Airways and United Airlines and low-cost carrier AirTran Airways reported the worst operating loss margins.

Network carriers operate a significant portion of their flights using at least one hub where connections are made for flights on a spoke system. Low-cost carriers are those that the industry recognizes as operating under a low-cost business model, with lower infrastructure costs and higher rates of productivity. Regional carriers provide service from small cities, using primarily regional jets to support the network carriers' hub and spoke systems.

The selected groups consist of those airlines in each group with the highest reported operating revenue in the most recent 12-month period.

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