ANALYSIS: Airline profits climb but challenges remain

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The latest Airline Business/Flightglobal World Airline Rankings show revenues for the 150 biggest airline groups rose 3% in 2013 to $717 billion.

North American carriers, the most profitable over the last 12 months, boosted revenues by 2% to $216 billion in 2013.

Completion of its merger with US Airways put the combined American Airlines as the leading airline group by revenues with earnings of over $40 billion, just ahead of Lufthansa, ­­United-Continental and Delta Air Lines.

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Gulf carriers Emirates and Qatar Airways, Russia's Aeroflot and Turkish Airlines were the fastest-growing carriers among the 25 biggest global airline groups in the last financial year. All grew revenues at double-digit rates.

Japanese carriers All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines suffered in US dollar terms as a result of the changing currency rates, though both increased revenues in local currency.

The consolidation in the USA and Europe over recent year is evident, with only Emirates and Qantas the eighth and 10th biggest airline groups, respectively breaking into the top 10 biggest carriers by revenue.

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Airline operating profits for the last financial year among the top 150 carriers for which profitability figures were available were up around $8 billion on the previous year, at $26.4 billion. But the costs attached to the restructuring and consolidation carried out by many carriers over the last year means net profits lag at $14.6 billion. That figure is heavily affected by the one-off income tax gain at Delta Air Lines, without which global net profits would be only around $2 billion up on the previous year's $5 billion figure.

North American carriers contributed around half the overall operating profits and the vast majority of industry net profits in the last year.

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At an operating level Delta Air Lines and the newly enlarged American Airlines Group led the way in profit terms. Fellow US carriers Southwest Airlines, United-Continental and Federal Express also feature among the most profitable at an operating level.

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At a net level, Delta's one-off income tax gain of around $8 billion inflated its net profit. Before special items, the SkyTeam carrier's net profits stood at $2.7 billion in 2013, still the highest among global airlines. European low-cost carrier giants EasyJet and Ryanair also feature more prominently among leading airlines at a net level.

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