*AirTran CEO says global airlines to suffer most
*AirTran unit revenue seen down in 1st quarter
*AirTran shares up 4.5 pct (Adds analyst note on industry capacity cuts)
ATLANTA, March 9 (Reuters) - AirTran Holdings Inc AAI.N said it still expects to be profitable this year, given the decline in fuel costs, even as March suffers because of the Easter holiday shift.
“We had one of the worst years of any airline in 2008 and the flip side is we will recover faster and rebound more quickly than any carrier,” AirTran Holdings Chief Executive Bob Fornaro said on Monday in a presentation at a Raymond James conference that was broadcast over the Internet.
The parent of AirTran Airways said it expects first-quarter passenger unit revenue to be down 7 percent to 8.5 percent, compared with a previous forecast calling for a decline of 2.5 percent to 5.5 percent. Total unit revenue is now forecast to be down 2 percent to 3.5 percent in the period, vs. the previous forecast of up 1 percent to down 2 percent.
Though March will be a weaker month because Easter is celebrated on April 12 this year, April will be a strong month, Fornaro said.
“We expect to be profitable in every quarter this year,” he said.
AirTran’s shares were up 4.5 percent to $3.02 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Fornaro added that bigger, global carriers would suffer most in the recession and added there would be more industry capacity cuts later this year.
UBS analyst Kevin Crissey said in a research note on Monday that U.S. airlines could make announcements on additional capacity cuts as early as next week.
“On our estimates none of the airlines have a liquidity issue but a materially worse revenue environment combined with stable fuel prices and continued closed credit markets could challenge this view,” Crissey wrote. “We believe this outcome is what the market is pricing.”
Rival Delta Air Lines Inc DAL.N, the world's biggest airline, said in its annual report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month that it expects to post a "significant loss" for the March 2009 quarter mainly because of fuel-hedge losses.
Earlier this year, Delta said it expects a profitable 2009 because of factors including lower fuel prices and merger synergies. (Reporting by Karen Jacobs; editing by Gunna Dickson and Tim Dobbyn)
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