If airlines were banking on a helpful cost environment during what was already shaping up to be a challenging northern hemisphere winter season, those hopes took a hit this week with a warning on jet fuel prices.

“While demand continues to improve, the recent rise in fuel prices will pressure our ability to remain profitable for the December quarter,” said Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian in the carrier’s earnings release on 14 October.

On a positive note, Delta reported its first pandemic-era profit for the third quarter and said that it expected demand to continue on an upward trend.

But while some market fundamentals are encouraging, our latest Airline Business Covid-19 recovery tracker shows that fuel prices have been ticking up towards levels not seen in five years.

Those increases are being driven by rising oil prices amid tight supply as economies around the world reopen.

West Texas Intermediate crude oil prices, for example, have hit their highest levels since 2014.

Airlines know too well how rising fuel costs can make life difficult.

As recently as 2019 they were a key factor in IATA downgrading its profit expectations for the entire industry.

This year, there are few profit expectations to downgrade. At most airlines around the world, high fuel costs will make a challenging few months even harder.

For an industry that is desperately seeking a shift away from its reliance on fossil fuels for sustainability reasons, the coming winter may provide another reason to wish that process along.

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Delta A350 Delta-1

Source: Delta Air Lines

Delta reported a quarterly profit this week