U.S. Network Carriers Post Fourth Straight Quarter of Losses, Regionals Still Profiting

 - December 16, 2008, 6:36 AM

The six largest network airlines in the U.S. reported a combined operating loss margin of 5.8 percent in the third quarter of 2008, marking the fourth consecutive quarterly loss margin since the group posted a profit in the third quarter of last year, the DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reported yesterday in a release of preliminary data. Of the six major airlines cited in the report, only Delta Air Lines reported an operating profit (2.2 percent). US Airways reported a loss margin of 20.5 percent, the steepest of the group.

The results for the major airline stand in relatively stark contrast to those posted by the six largest reporting regional airlines, which included a 9-percent profit margin by Cincinnati-based Comair; a 6.5-percent profit by St. George, Utah-based SkyWest; a 6-percent profit by SkyWest subsidiary Atlantic Southeast Airlines; a 5.3-percent positive margin by American Eagle and a 4.2-percent mark by Alaska Airlines subsidiary Horizon Air. Mesa Air Group, Alaska Airlines and Allegiant Airlines requested confidentiality from the BTS, which agreed to withhold the information pending review.

The six reporting network carriers spent 36.1 percent of their operating expenses in the third quarter of 2008 on fuel, compared with 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. The top seven reporting regional airlines collectively spent 6.23 cents per ASM. Of those carriers, Atlantic Southeast spent the most (9.45 cents per ASM) and ExpressJet spent the least (1.10)