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American Airlines' parent swings to profit

/ Source: The Associated Press

The parent of American Airlines said Wednesday it earned a profit in the first quarter, reversing the loss of a year ago, as the nation's largest carrier overcame stubbornly high fuel prices and winter storms that scrambled flight schedules.

AMR Corp. said it earned $81 million, or 30 cents per share, in the first three months of the year, compared to a loss of $92 million, or 49 cents per share, a year earlier.

The latest results matched the forecast of analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial.

Revenue rose 1.6 percent, to $5.43 billion, slightly below the $5.46 billion forecast by analysts.

American drew strength from its international operations, which saw stronger traffic, while the domestic business was weaker.

Chairman and Chief Executive Gerard Arpey said the first-quarter results built on AMR's work in 2006, when it earned its first full-year profit after five money-losing years marred by a recession, terror attacks and tougher competition from low-cost carriers.

"While we must continue to improve our financial performance, we believe our results show that we have started 2007 on the right track," Arpey said in a statement.

"It was right on the money," analyst Ray Neidl of Calyon Securities said of AMR's quarter. "The industry looks like it's back on track."

Neidl said AMR's costs "are creeping up, and they are higher than they should be compared to competitors, especially the ones coming out of bankruptcy. But it's a good revenue environment, and that should make up for it."

American's jets averaged 78.1 percent occupancy in the first quarter, up from 77.2 percent a year earlier. Strong demand for travel has allowed American to raise fares.

Fort Worth-based AMR, which also operates the American Eagle commuter airline, has cut more than $5 billion in annual costs since 2003. AMR said it aims to cut another $300 million in spending this year.

Still, the company said that costs per miles flown by customers _ a key measurement of airline efficiency _ will rise 3.1 percent in the second quarter and 1.6 percent for the year, even after taking fuel out of the calculations. Those figures include Eagle.

American expects to reduce capacity 1.8 percent in 2007, with the biggest cuts coming in U.S. flights. Some of that pullback already occurred due to weather-related cancellations in the first quarter.