United Airlines incurred a third quarter net loss of $779 million, which includes $519 million in non-cash, net mark-to-market losses on the carrier's fuel hedge contracts as a result of the recent drop in the price of oil.

Star Alliance member's loss for the three months ended 31 September is a reversal on the $334 million profit it recorded during the same period in 2007.

Third quarter revenue grew by just under 1% to $5.6 billion, while expenses rose 24.3% to over $6 billion.

United posted a third quarter operating loss of $491 million versus a $656 million operating profit in the year-earlier quarter.

The company ended the quarter with an unrestricted cash balance of $2.9 billion, restricted cash balance of $248 million and $378 million in cash deposits held by its fuel hedge counterparties.

"While today's weak economic environment challenges our industry as demand softens, that same economic environment has caused oil prices to significantly decline from the unprecedented highs we witnessed earlier this year, suggesting significantly lower industry costs and improving operating margin," says United chief executive Glenn Tilton.

"We are taking the action required to return to profitability and continue to strengthen our liquidity while simultaneously improving the operating fundamentals to deliver the results our shareholders and customers expect."

The company notes that if fuel prices stay at lower levels, it will enjoy lower prices on its unhedged fuel purchases offsetting cash losses that might be incurred at contract settlement.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news