Airlines in 2011 have had to wade through high fuel prices, a so-so economy, an earthquake and tsunami in Japan, natural disasters elsewhere, unrest in a number of Arab countries and a host of other negative factors.

But, with the exception of American Airlines and parent AMR, most are expected to make money in 2011.

Take Delta Air Lines as an example.

In 2008, Delta Air Lines spent an average of $3.29 a gallon for jet fuel. It lost $1.6 billion, excluding a big non-cash charge. In 2011, its fuel bill will be nearly as high as in 2008. But the latest estimates are that Delta will earn more than $1 billion this year.

“If you would lay that fact pattern out several years ago and then ask where the airline would be positioned, I dare say you thought we’d be on our knees,” Delta president Ed Bastian told analysts Dec. 14.

“We’d be talking about survival rather than prosperity, and talking about how we’re going to live through the next number of months. We are pleased to say it’s just the opposite. We’ve had a very strong year, a very positive year,” Bastian said.

Based on current earnings estimates, the six largest carriers U.S. passengers excluding AMR are expected to post net income of about $3.3 billion for 2011. Even with an expected loss of $1.2 billion by American parent AMR, the seven largest carriers will cumulatively earn about $2.1 billion.

The difference? Airlines were aggressive in cutting capacity and raising fares this time around, enabling them to increase revenues to offset much of the increase in fuel expenses.

For a number of reasons, several regional carriers are expected to report losses, including SkyWest, Pinnacle Airlines and Republic Airways. One thing they all had in common — they had all acquired airlines in the last few years.

We won’t know the final results for the industry until carriers finish reporting their 2011 earnings in late January and early February. But 2011 will not be a repeat of the billions of dollars in losses suffered in 2008.

Projected 2011 earnings based on analysts’ consensus (in millions of dollars):

Airline Projected earnings
Alaska Air Group $295
AMR -$1,193
Delta $1,114
JetBlue $83
Southwest $325
United Continental $1,443
US Airways $64
Allegiant $49
Hawaiian $40
Pinnacle -$7
Republic -$3
SkyWest -$9
Spirit Airlines $94
Total $2,296

(Estimates based on Dec. 21, 2011, consensus estimates)

Post Your Resume to 65+ Job Sites
Resume Service

Post to Twitter Tweet This Post