Spanish flag-carrier Iberia's net earnings fell by 77% to €51.1 million ($64 million) over the first nine months of this year, as fuel costs increased by €374 million.

The airline suffered a €47 million decline in passenger revenues but this was almost offset by an increase in other income, meaning that overall operating income stayed largely flat at €4.1 billion.

Operating expenses rose 5.6%, mainly because of the higher fuel costs which accounted for 29% of total expenditure over the first nine months. Iberia's fuel bill reached €1.2 billion.

But the carrier says that, excluding fuel, its operating expenses fell by 5% as it benefited from cost savings in its 2006-08 strategic plan.

In the third quarter, Iberia posted net earnings of €30.4 million - a figure which is 80% down on last year's result.

Iberia's traffic fell slightly and a small hike in capacity meant January-September load factor was down by 1.2 points to 80.8%. Long-haul accounts for 63% of total traffic.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news