Alaska Air's 3Q profit more than doubles

SEATTLE -- Alaska Airlines' parent company more than doubled third-quarter profit as traffic grew and its planes were fuller.

Alaska Air Group Inc. said Thursday that net income rose to $163.4 million, or $2.27 per share, compared with $77.5 million, or $1.06 per share, a year ago.

Without an accounting gain from fuel hedging, the company would have earned a record $2.09 per share. That matched analysts' expectations, according to FactSet.

Revenue climbed 6 percent to $1.27 billion, compared with the analysts' forecast of $1.28 billion. Passenger traffic grew 7 percent and the average flight was 86.9 percent full, up from 86.5 percent a year earlier. The figures include Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air.

Airlines went through a tumultuous period last decade, with several going through bankruptcy. But mergers have reduced competition, and airlines have boosted profits by limiting flights, which cuts costs, while charging more for tickets.

Alaska is much smaller than rivals such as United, Delta and American, but it has carved out a profitable niche along the West Coast and with a few transcontinental routes. It is sometimes mentioned as a possible merger partner, most recently with bankrupt American Airlines, but executives have said that the Seattle-based carrier wants to remain independent.

This month, Alaska announced it will buy 50 new Boeing 737 jets from 2015 to 2024 to replace older planes and grow. The planes carry a list price of about $5 billion, although airlines routinely get discounts from jet makers.

Alaska's shares closed Wednesday at $38.35, up 13 cents. For the year, they are up 2 percent including the effect of a 2-for-1 stock split in March.