March 6, 2009 / 11:21 AM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-SAS traffic dives in Feb, rival Norwegian Air up

* SAS traffic down 20.1 pct in Feb.

* SAS cut capacity 12 pct in Feb.

* SAS yield up 1 pct in Jan., seen rising in Feb.

* SAS stock down 3 pct, Norwegian Air down 5 pct

(Adds analyst comment, Norwegian Air data, background, shares)

STOCKHOLM, March 6 (Reuters) - Scandinavian airline SAS (SAS.ST) said on Friday passenger traffic in February plunged 20.1 percent from a year earlier while no-frills rival Norwegian Air Shuttle said passenger traffic rose slightly.

Struggling SAS — half of which is owned by Sweden, Norway and Denmark — said its passenger load factor fell 6.1 percentage points to 61.9 percent. The factor is a measure of how successful it was in filling its seats.

Yield in January, the latest month for which data is available, was up 1 percent and the airline said it expected the yield for February to be slightly more positive. Yield is a measure of unit revenue.

SAS said that, in light of the new weakening demand, it had reduced capacity by 12 percent in February.

The firm last month launched a new savings drive and said it would raise fresh capital as it intensified efforts to ride out the global downturn that is hitting airlines, particularly state carriers such as SAS.

“SAS is doing what is has to do in order to adjust to the current environment,” said SEB Enskilda analyst Steven Brooker.

“The first two months of the year were weak, but similar to what other airlines reported. The good thing for SAS is that around 80 percent of their fleet is leased,” he said.

Leasing allows faster capacity cuts than owning planes.

Separately, Norwegian Air Shuttle (NWC.OL) said it carried 1.2 percent more passengers in February than a year earlier due to expansion in established markets and new routes.

The budget airline, which last year bought Sweden’s FlyNordic, said its yield rose at its main businesses in Norway, Denmark and Poland but fell in Sweden.

SAS shares fell 3 percent 21.40 Swedish crowns by 1057 GMT while Norwegian Air shares were down 5 percent to 29 Norwegian crowns.

Reporting by Anna Ringstrom, additional reporting by John Acher and Simon Johnson; editing by Simon Jessop

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