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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.

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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