February 9, 2011 / 12:07 PM / 7 years ago

UPDATE 3-WestJet Airlines profit more than doubles

* Q4 EPS C$0.33 vs C$0.14 a year earlier

* Q4 revenue up 22 pct to C$692.8 mln

* Defers delivery of six planes as fuel costs rise

* Shares rise 8.7 pct to C$14.35 on TSX (Adds details, analyst comment, stock prices)

By Susan Taylor

OTTAWA, Feb 9 (Reuters) - WestJet Airlines Ltd (WJA.TO), Canada’s No. 2 carrier, said on Wednesday a rebound in travel demand, tight cost control and new partnerships helped it more than double quarterly profit and positioned it for more profitable growth.

The low-cost airline, which is aggressively seeking new sources of revenue through alliances and expansion, also said it would defer delivery of six Boeing (BA.N) 737 planes to give it greater flexibility as fuel costs rise.

Shares of WestJet, which this week announced a commercial pact with Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), soared 8.7 percent on Wednesday to C$14.35 on the Toronto Stock Exchange after its fourth-quarter results easily beat market expectations.

Calgary-based WestJet said it expects first-quarter revenue per available seat mile, a key measure of top line performance, to mirror the 6.8 percent gain it posted in the fourth quarter. It said capacity will increase by 9 to 10 percent in the first quarter and by 6 to 8 percent on a full-year basis.

The airline, whose main rival is Air Canada Inc ACa.TO ACb.TO, the country’s biggest airline, said it is earmarking the bulk of the capacity expansion for fast-growth transborder and international markets.

WestJet said the new reservation system it launched last year, which allows revenue-generating alliances with other airlines, will continue to pay off in 2011.

As it looks to branch out in the U.S. market, WestJet said it wants to secure three to four code-share deals with other carriers this year and strike “additional” interline deals. Last October, it signed an interline deal with American Airlines, its first alliance with a U.S. carrier.

Code-share deals allow carriers to sell tickets on each other’s airlines, while the interline deals that often precede them allow customers of both airlines to purchase connecting flights on one ticket.

“As WestJet continues to grow its capacity, these U.S. airline commercial pacts will fill more seats,” said Robert Kokonis, managing director of airline consulting company AirTrav Inc.

“More importantly, the traffic base that Delta and American will bring to WestJet will have a stronger corporate business component than that of WestJet’s traditional source of transborder traffic.”

WestJet also said this week that it will boost its flight schedule at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in May in an effort to lure more high-profit business traffic.

FUEL COSTS RISING

WestJet will need to balance revenue growth with rising fuel costs, which represent about one-third of its expenses.

Costs per available seat mile rose 1.1 percent in the fourth quarter, but declined 1.8 percent after fuel and employee profit-sharing expenses were stripped out.

WestJet said it expects first-quarter fuel prices, excluding hedging, of 82 Canadian cents to 84 Canadian cents per liter. That compares with a fuel cost of 73 Canadian cents per liter, excluding hedging, in the fourth quarter.

The carrier said it will defer the delivery of six new planes, originally planned for 2012 to 2015, to 2017 and 2018. It said the order remains intact.

In January, WestJet said it twice increased some ticket prices, by C$5 for short-haul flights and C$10 for long-haul flights, without hurting demand.

In the fourth quarter, the company said it earned C$47.9 million ($48.15 million), or 33 Canadian cents a share, up from C$20.2 million, or 14 Canadian cents a share, a year earlier.

Revenue rose 22 percent to C$692.8 million.

Analysts had expected earnings of 17 Canadian cents a share on revenue of C$664.5 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Yield, or the average price paid by one passenger to fly one mile, rose 6.7 percent from a year earlier.

The company declared a cash dividend of 5 Canadian cents a share for the first quarter. It announced its first-ever dividend in November.

$1=$0.99 Canadian Reporting by Susan Taylor in Ottawa and Isheeta Sanghi in Bangalore; Editing by Peter Galloway

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