Losses continue at Virgin America

Washington DC
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Startup Virgin America posted a net loss of $40.3 million for the first quarter of 2009 in the midst of an economic downturn compared to a net loss of $52 million for the period last year

Both its sales and expenses increased year-over-year during the first three months of 2009. However, the San Francisco-based carrier's expenses outpaced sales in the first quarters of 2009 and 2008, resulting in an operating loss for both periods.

There was some improvement in operating loss during the first quarter of this year-$31.6 million compared to $50.8 million last year-due to a 90.8% rise in sales.

Sales reached $100.8 million while expenses jumped 27.7% to $132.4 million.

Assessing Virgin America's performance, carrier president and CEO David Cush says in a statement: "Our first quarter financial results exceeded our projections and we foresee continued strong revenue growth through the spring and summer."

Its increased revenue comes as the airline reported a 73% load factor even as Virgin America upped capacity 69% during the first quarter this year.

Load factors at Virgin America improved 12 points year-over-year and load factors also increased each month during the first quarter of 2009 despite the economic slowdown.

Rising load factors continued into the second quarter this year, with Virgin America posting its two highest load factor months to date: 85% in April followed by 84% in May.

The airline ended the first quarter of 2009 with $38 million in unrestricted cash and $63 million in total liquidity.

The privately-held operator's latest financial results were announced in advance of the US DOT's quarterly reports following the airline's unsuccessful lobbying of US regulators to keep its operating data confidential after its August 2007 debut.

DOT is now reviewing Virgin America's citizenship amid reports that its US investors have sold their stake in the carrier to its UK-based parent company Virgin Group as US federal law requires US-based carriers be at least 75% owned and controlled by US investors.

Rival Alaska Airlines along with North American union the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and US Congressman James Oberstar, chairman of the House transportation and infrastructure committee, pushed DOT to investigate Virgin America's ownership structure.

Virgin America has repeatedly dismissed the citizenship challenge.