The severe financial slump at US airlines continued in the first quarter of 2003 as majors lost well over $2.5 billion combined for the three-month period ending 31 March.

American Airlines, struggling to stave off bankruptcy, led the way among loss-making US carriers by posting a $1.04 billion net loss for the first quarter.

"Our first quarter results were truly dreadful," said American chief executive Don Carty, shortly before announcing his resignation.

American rival United Airlines, operating in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, did not report results, but had already admitted to a likely first quarter operating loss of over $800 million. Delta Air Lines posted a net loss of $466 million for the quarter, up from a net loss of $397 million for the same period last year.

Northwest Airlines' first quarter net losses more than doubled in 2003, to $396 million, compared with a net loss of $171 million for the first quarter of 2002. "The travel downturn that began some two years ago has further deteriorated due to the war, and shows no signs of improving," says Northwest chief executive Richard Anderson.

Continental Airlines incurred first quarter net losses of $221 million. Seattle-based Alaska Air Group, the parent of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, reported a net loss of $56.3 million, while America West Airlines suffered a net loss of $62 million.

Low-fares carrier Southwest Airlines once again bucked the trend with a net profit of $24 million, a 14.3% increase over a net profit of $21 million for the same period in 2002. The first three months of 2003 represent Southwest's 48th consecutive profitable quarter.

American's Carty says US airlines "are beset on all sides by a struggling economy, the continued uncertainties regarding hostilities in the Middle East, concerns regarding the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak, fuel prices that are significantly higher than they were a year ago, and fare levels that are at 30-year lows".

Source: Flight International