Delta expects profit from Trainer refinery

Posted: March 06, 2013

Shares of Delta Air Lines rose 5 percent after the carrier said Monday that it expected a second-quarter profit of $75 million to $100 million at its oil refinery in Trainer.

Delta also said the current quarter would be the airline's first profitable March quarter since 2000.

"Running an oil refinery, much like running an airline, is not for the faint of heart," Delta president Edward Bastian told a JPMorgan conference.

He said operational issues kept the refinery at 75 percent capacity in January and February. Still, the plant will "break even" in these first three months.

Had the refinery been running at full capacity, it would have made a profit of $60 million in the current quarter, Bastian said.

"There's evidence that we're going to make this work for us. But like anything that's big and new and different, it's taken us a little bit longer to turn on than we thought," he said. Delta bought the refinery from ConocoPhillips last year to gain more control over fuel costs; it has said it expects to save $300 million annually on its jet-fuel bill.

At the same conference, US Airways chief executive officer Doug Parker said planning teams at US Airways and American Airlines have begun working to merge the two carriers into the world's largest.

Parker, who will run the combined operation, reiterated that the two carriers have complementary route networks. Of nearly 700 routes, only 12 overlap, he said.

The new American will create a "premier global airline" that will be good for stakeholders, consumers, and employees, Parker said. The larger airline will be able to compete better with United and Delta, now No. 1 and 2.

"It's good for the communities we serve because we are not intending to close any hubs, but rather enhance service to the existing communities by combining the two networks," he said.

The airline won't be "built on a cost advantage vs. United and Delta. The value is in running a better airline and doing better on the revenue front than they can," Parker said.

"It's all about putting the networks together. The ability to put the right aircraft on the right routes," he said. "You just don't get the connections, you actually do a much better job with corporate clients by being able to sell to them the world."

Parker conceded that while the merged airline will not have the flights to Asia that Delta and United have, it will have a stronger route network in Latin America. On Monday, US Airways applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation to operate daily service between Philadelphia and Sao Paulo, Brazil, to complement service to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro from Charlotte.

Southwest Airlines said it expects low-single-digit percentage unit revenue in February - a key airline measure that represents passenger revenue per available seat mile. Bookings for March look solid, said chief financial officer Tammy Romo.

"Of course, we must keep a watchful eye on the broader economic conditions," Romo said. "We are continuing to monitor demand closely for signs of weakening, resulting from the budget sequester and higher consumer income taxes, which could hurt consumer spending."

JetBlue Airways CEO Dave Barger said he would like to expand an arrangement with American after the merger, to share "partnership traffic" at New York's John F. Kennedy airport.

"We connect 26 of our non-overlap markets to 15 of their international markets. Think New York and think Kennedy," Barger said.


Contact Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

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