MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — This is what it looks like when things are going well for an airline.
Six years after it emerged from bankruptcy protection, Delta Air Lines on Tuesday announced a profit of more than a billion dollars, as more passengers paid a little bit extra to fly on its planes in the third quarter. Even its new oil refinery made money.
Just a month the company was added to the Standard and Poor's 500 Index and resuming paying a dividend, Delta's shares hit a post-bankruptcy high of $26.24.
Delta, which bought Northwest in 2008, is benefiting as its biggest competitors struggle with merger problems. United Airlines is still working through its 2010 merger with Continental, and American and US Airways need to beat a federal antitrust lawsuit if they want to go forward with their own tie-up.
Delta President Ed Bastian said the airline is benefiting from a combination of rising corporate travel, and some travelers shifting to Delta and away from other airlines. Delta is taking a "considerable amount" of business from other airlines, he said on a conference call.
Delta has been expanding in New York at both John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia. Revenue from New York will grow when Delta's new joint venture with Virgin Atlantic begins on Jan. 1, CEO Richard Anderson said.
Passenger traffic rose 2 percent for the quarter. The amount passengers paid for each seat flown one mile rose almost 5 percent.
Delta said it is seeing strong holiday bookings, and it expects to expand its flying capacity as much as 3 percent during the fourth quarter, compared to the same period last year. Rather than adding new flights, Delta is using larger planes for flights that used to have 50-seat regional jets.
For the quarter that ended Sept. 30, Delta's net income jumped 31 percent to $1.37 billion, or $1.59 per share. Not counting gains from fuel hedges, the company would have earned $1.2 billion, or $1.41 per share. That was 5 cents per share more than expected by analysts surveyed by FactSet.
Revenue rose 6 percent to $10.49 billion, about what analysts were expecting. That's slightly more revenue than United is expected to report on Thursday. United is still the bigger airline by traffic.
Delta has been reducing debt and making moves designed to please shareholders. During the quarter, it paid its first dividend since 2003 and bought back $100 million worth of shares, with another $400 million planned.
Delta shares rose to $26.24 on Tuesday, a new high since the airline exited bankruptcy protection in 2007. The shares closed up 82 cents, or 3.3 percent, at $25.51. They've more than doubled this year, outpacing gains of about 60 percent for Southwest Airlines Co. and US Airways Group Inc., and 33 percent for United Continental Holdings Inc.
Delta, based in Atlanta, saw passenger revenue gains in domestic flying and flying to Europe. Revenue for flights across the Pacific fell 5 percent.
The weaker Japanese yen has made Asia flying less profitable, although Tokyo's Narita airport remains Delta's most profitable hub, the airline said. Most of Delta's Asia's flights once passed through Tokyo, but it is increasingly bypassing Tokyo in favor of flights straight to South Korea, China, and other Asian countries.
Last year Delta bought an oil refinery near Philadelphia, with the goal of maximizing its jet fuel output. It took longer than Delta had predicted, but the refinery turned its first profit in the most recent quarter, $3 million. It lost $136 million total during the three previous quarters. Delta said profits there were hurt by smaller spreads between the cost of crude oil and the selling price of fuel.
The same tighter margins reduced jet fuel prices for Delta, the airline said. Its cost for jet fuel fell 5 percent to $2.97 per gallon.