Air France-KLM pulls out of danger despite profit hit

Air France-KLM reported a sharp climb in its flight out of crisis on Thursday, but delayed the timetable for getting over its debt mountain.

The airline, considered at risk of failing two years ago, reported that third-quarter operating profit leapt by nearly a third thanks to restructuring efforts.

But the net figure fell by half because of a writedown of the group's interest in Alitalia which has just averted insolvency.

Air France-KLM is restructuring to pull out of deep financial problems and cope with low-cost competition, and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said that the operating figure was "very encouraging" as a sign that the measures were working.

Operating profit jumped by 29.1 percent to 634 million euros ($868.6 million), in line with analysts' expectations and up from 491 million euros in the same quarter last year.

Net profit fell to 144 million euros from 296 million euros.

This reflected a tax charge of 140 million euros and a factor of 137 million euros on an equivalence basis for results and write-downs for its interests in Italian airline Alitalia.

Air France-KLM said in a statement that the writedown reflected "the share in the results and the depreciation of the residual value of Alitalia shares."

Air France-KLM owns 25.0 percent of Alitalia and has until the middle of November to decide whether or not to subscribe to a capital increase by the Italian company.

But the restructuring programme at Air France-KLM, called Transform 2015, continued to bear fruit and the group said it had been able to reduce unit costs.

On the basis of these results, the group held to its targets for the whole of 2013.

In the first half, an operating loss had been reduced by 239 million euros to 451 million euros, and a net loss fell by 33.8 percent to 649 million euros.

With the third-quarter boost, for the first nine months of the year the group switched into an operating profit of 183 million euros from a loss of 199 million euros in the same period of last year.

On the basis that its bill for fuel would be $2.3 billion, and in a highly volatile climate, the group said it would improve its operating profit in the second half of this year in line with performance in the first half.

Debt-reduction target delayed to 2015

In January 2012, Air France-KLM launched a restructuring programme to save 2.0 billion euros over three years and to reduce debt to 4.5 billion euros by the end of 2014 from 6.5 billion euros at the beginning of 2012.

However, on Thursday the group delayed this timetable.

The group said now that given an environment marked by weak growth, volatile fuel prices and exchange rates, and despite a big improvement in long-range operations and maintenance, underlying profit next year would be about 2.5 billion euros.

This was at the lower end of the range mentioned previously and the 2.0-billion euro reduction of net debt debt would now be achieved in 2015.

"The group continued to improve its operating result during this quarter," De Juniac said in a statement:

"This is very encouraging since it shows that the roll-out of the measures in the Transform 2015 plan is proceeding in line with our expectation.

"However, it was considered necessary, last September, to supplement them with additional measures to strengthen the group within the prevailing uncertain economic environment, particularly in the medium-haul and cargo sectors which are facing major difficulties."

The airline said that conditions had remained difficult in the third quarter, and in addition the euro had risen strongly, crimping sales figure when converted from other currencies.

In the quarter sales edged up by 0.4 percent to 7.21 billion euros.