* US Airways Q1 net loss 90 cents/shr
* Special items incl a $170 mln fuel hedge gain
* US Airways ends Q1 with $2.1 bln in cash, investments
* US Airways shares up 10.9 percent (Adds out look for unit costs and unit revenue. Updates shares)
By Kyle Peterson
CHICAGO, April 23 (Reuters) - US Airways Group Inc LCC.N reported on Thursday a quarterly loss that narrowed 57 percent on capacity cuts US Airways and its rivals have made in recent months to deal with wilting travel demand.
JetBlue Airways Corp (JBLU.O), meanwhile, reported a quarterly net profit, reversing a year-earlier loss, and Alaska Air Group Inc (ALK.N) posted a net loss that narrowed from a year before but was worse than analysts had expected.
Despite $1.78 billion in net losses reported by the top six U.S. airlines in the last two weeks, experts were hopeful that massive industry downsizing would lead to 2009 profits.
“The U.S. airline industry has done what it has had to do to get back to some level of profitability,” Helane Becker, an airline analyst at Jesup & Lamont.
Shares of US Airways were up 9.9 percent at $4.79 on the New York Stock Exchange and JetBlue Shares were up 0.9 percent at $5.63 on Nasdaq, but Alaska Air shares were down 10.3 percent at $17.77 on the NYSE. The Amex airline index .XAL was up 0.1 percent.
US Airways said its net loss amounted to $103 million, or 90 cents per share, compared with a loss of $237 million, or $2.58 per share, a year before.
Special items included a $170 million unrealized net gain associated with the change in the value of fuel hedge contracts.
Excluding items, US Airways lost $2.28 per share, compared with a consensus Wall Street forecast for a $2.33 per share loss, according to Reuters Estimates.
“We’ve pulled down an appropriate amount of capacity and will explore additional reductions if the economic environment warrants such action,” US Airways Chief Executive Doug Parker said in a statement.
“Because of the global economic weakness and uncertainty, 2009 remains difficult to forecast,” he said.
Revenue declined 13.5 percent to $2.46 billion. US Airways, like its competitors, has generated new revenue by charging for items and services that once were included in air fares.
On Thursday, the carrier said it would allow passengers to prepay their controversial bag check fees online and would charge an additional $5 fee for each bag checked at the airport.
US Airways ended the quarter with $2.1 billion in cash and investments.
On a conference call with analysts and reporters, airline executives said the carrier’s costs per available seat mile, excluding fuel, would be up 1 percent to 3 percent for the rest of 2009. The carrier said its unit revenue likely would be down 10 percent in April.
Low-cost carrier JetBlue said its first-quarter net profit was $12 million, or 5 cents per share, compared with a loss of $10 million, or 5 cents per share, a year earlier.
JetBlue, which cut capacity 5.4 percent in the quarter from a year earlier, also said its yield per passenger increased 2.5 percent.
JetBlue said revenue fell 2.9 percent to $793 million. The company ended the quarter with $634 million in cash and cash equivalents.
Alaska Air said its net loss narrowed to $19.2 million, or 53 cents per share, from $37.3 million, or $1.01 per share, a year earlier.
Excluding special items, the loss was 70 cents per share, compared with the analysts’ average forecast of a 46-cent loss, according to Reuters Estimates.
The low-cost carrier, which credited lower fuel costs for its improved performance, ended the quarter with $1 billion in unrestricted cash and marketable securities.
Alaska Air, which also operates regional carrier Horizon Air, announced it would start charging for a first checked bag. The $15 fee is effective July 7 for tickets purchased beginning May 1. The company already charges for all but the first checked bag. (Additional reporting by John Crawley in Washington D.C.) (Reporting by Kyle Peterson, editing by Dave Zimmerman and Gerald E. McCormick)