US Airline Business Improves Its Activity

Airline stocks traded mostly higher Friday, thus almost reaching August traffic reports from United, American and Southwest showing that the carriers' cuts to capacity overtook further declines in demand.

At last check, the NYSE Arca Airline Index rose 1.3% to stand at 23.97 points. All but one of its 13 components was on the rise.

In the last year, the sector benchmark has moved in a range of 28.22 to 12.62 points.

Helping color the trading, the Labor Department earlier reported that the U.S. national unemployment rate hit a 26-year high in August, though the monthly decline in nonfarm payrolls - 216,000 jobs - was the smallest in a year and represents further economic stability.

Trading higher, shares of US Airways Group Inc. (LCC) rose 3.4% to $3.37, United parent UAL Corp. (UAUA) climbed 2% to $6.31, American parent AMR Corp. (AMR) added 1.7% to $5.58, and Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV) rose a fraction to $8.45.

UAL Corp. said late Thursday its August traffic fell 3.3% to 11.03 billion revenue passenger miles. A revenue passenger mile equals one passenger flown one mile.

August capacity declined 6.2% from last year to 12.8 billion available seat miles. That helped to lift the carrier's monthly load factor, or the percentage of seats filled, to 86.1% from 83.6% last year.

AMR Corp. said August traffic fell 8.1% to 11.17 billion revenue passenger miles from a year ago, while capacity declined 9.4% to 13.19 billion available seat miles.

American Air's load factor rose to 84.7% from 83.5%.

Low-cost carrier Southwest's August traffic rose 1.0% while capacity fell 6.1% compared with the same month a year ago. That helped to boost its load factor to 80.2% from 74.6%.

Earlier this week, US Airways said its August traffic fell 3.9% from the same month last year to 5.5 billion revenue passenger miles. Capacity also dropped, down 3.8% to 6.4 billion available seat miles.

Load factor for Tempe, Ariz.-based carrier was flat at 85.7%.

US Airway's consolidated August unit revenue was down about 15%, said President Scott Kirby, though that's an improvement from previous months.

Late Wednesday, Alaska Air Group Inc.'s (ALK) Alaska Air said its traffic in August slipped 0.8% with capacity down 2.9%. Load factor rose to 84.3% to from 82.5%.

And Continental Airlines Inc. (CAL) said its August traffic fell 3.9% and capacity decreased 6% compared with the same month a year ago. Consolidated load factor was up 1.9 percentage points on year to 85.8%.

The Houston-based carrier also said its August mainline unit revenue fell an estimated 17% to 18%, compared to July's drop of 18.3%.

Elsewhere, an escalating dispute between the Federal Aviation Administration and American Airlines came to a boil on Friday with The Wall Street Journal reporting government inspectors think the airline tried to hide defects and safety problems on its aircraft.

The dust-up over the inspections follows a string of clashes between American and the FAA over maintenance issues, including faulty emergency slides and wrong coatings, Wall Street Journal reports.

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