Business

Southwest profit up on higher fares, cheaper fuel

DALLAS — Average fares are rising on Southwest Airlines Co., the fuel bill is shrinking, and profit is soaring.

Southwest released third-quarter results Thursday and gave more evidence that the airline industry continues to rebound from the 2008 recession.

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It said that third-quarter net income jumped to $259 million, or 37 cents per share, from $16 million, or 2 cents per share, a year earlier.

The average one-way fare on Southwest increased 11.3 percent, to $159.39. That reflects longer flights and long-term trends in fuel prices, Southwest officials said.

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The airline was forced to boost fares to offset fuel prices that rose for several years, ‘‘and finally we’re getting caught up,’’ chief executive Gary Kelly said on a conference call. ‘‘If fuel prices are flat next year, I would hope that we wouldn’t have to have fare increases.’’

Over the past three years, Southwest’s price per gallon of fuel has risen faster than the average fare — fuel 26 percent, fares 20 percent. Over four years, fuel is up 37 percent while the average fare is up 40 percent.

In the last few months, airlines have gotten a break from rising fuel bills as oil prices have stabilized.

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