JetBlue Profit Falls in First Quarter

NEW YORK (AP) -- JetBlue Airways Corp. on Thursday said profit fell by more than half in the first quarter, but its earnings still topped Wall Street estimates as the low-cost carrier fended off soaring fuel costs amid a bounceback in passenger traffic.

The company's profit report came as a relief to investors after legacy airlines Delta Air Lines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Corp. posted wider quarterly losses earlier in the day. Shares of JetBlue jumped $1.17, or 6 percent, to $20.64 in afternoon Nasdaq trading.

Quarterly net income plunged 54 percent to $7 million, or 6 cents per share, in the January-March period from $15.2 million, or 14 cents, in the year-ago period. Revenue totaled $374.2 million, up 30 percent from $289 million the previous year.

The company's results came in well ahead of the average estimate for earnings of 3 cents per share and $366.2 million in sales from analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial.

Passenger revenue surged 28 percent to reach $357.9 million for the period as overall traffic of 4.43 billion revenue passenger miles _ one passenger flown a mile _ improved 31.5 percent, the company said.

Last quarter, JetBlue expanded its total capacity by 22.5 percent, and planes were 85.8 percent full compared with 79.9 percent occupancy the year before. However, the amount JetBlue earned for each passenger mile, or yield, declined 2.7 percent to 8.07 cents.

Despite the upswing in passenger traffic, JetBlue's bottom line faced immense pressure from lofty aircraft fuel prices, which have plagued the industry over the past year and driven some carriers into deep financial troubles.

JetBlue spent $86.6 million on aircraft fuel last quarter, up 76 percent from $49.2 million spent a year ago. The average fuel cost swelled 42.6 percent to $1.31 per gallon, JetBlue said.

Still, Chairman and Chief Executive David Neeleman called JetBlue's quarterly performance strong and said that aside from fuel costs, ''our operating margin actually improved slightly.''