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Delta's key revenue measure up in October, but storm hurt

Delta Airlines passengers check in at BWI Thurgood Marshall International Airport near Baltimore, Maryland October 24, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Ca
Delta Airlines passengers check in at BWI Thurgood Marshall International Airport near Baltimore, Maryland October 24, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Ca

(Reuters) - Delta Air Lines said on Friday that a key revenue measure improved in October, helped by corporate travel and cancellations in the wake of superstorm Sandy.

The airline, which canceled more than 3,500 flights last month because of the storm, said Sandy had hurt October revenue by $45 million and likely shaved about $20 million from the carrier's October profit. It estimated that the storm's effect on November revenue and profit would be less than October.

Unit revenue, a measure of pricing power and how full planes are, rose 5.5 percent in October from a year earlier. The cancellations caused a 2 percent reduction in Delta's systemwide capacity in October from a year ago.

Delta said the improvement in unit revenue, also known as passenger revenue per available seat mile, was about one percentage point higher than it would have been without the impact of the hurricane. Cancellations tend to help unit revenue as more travelers are put on remaining flights. Delta's percentage of seats filled systemwide in October was 84.6 percent, up from 82.8 percent a year earlier.

Delta said that it was operating close to a full schedule at New York's John F. Kennedy airport and Newark Liberty in New Jersey as its New York operations were restored after the storm, which forced airport closures.

The airline, which is based in Atlanta, said it expected a full schedule on Friday at LaGuardia, where it offers roughly 260 flights a day.

U.S. airlines canceled nearly 20,000 flights this week, and analysts expect a material earnings hit from Sandy.

David Fintzen, a Barclays analyst, said in a note to clients late this week that airline profits could suffer $200 million in the fourth quarter because of the storm. He is projecting a collective pretax profit of $450 million for major airlines excluding AMR Corp's American, which is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

He added New York-based JetBlue and US Airways , which has a hub in Philadelphia, likely have the most relative exposure to impact from the storm.

"We think U.S. airlines overall can still be profitable in an off-peak quarter after accounting for the hurricane," Fintzen wrote.

Shares of Delta were off 1 percent at $9.60. Other airline stocks edged down, with United Continental off 0.4 percent at $19.41, US Airways down 0.5 percent at $12.49 and Southwest Airlines down 0.3 percent to $9.02.

(Reporting by Karen Jacobs; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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