Traffic dips at American Airlines; key 1Q revenue figure expected to decline from last year

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FORT WORTH, Texas — American Airlines' parent says March traffic declined from last year and a key revenue figure for the first quarter will be lower than it was last year, partly because of the stronger U.S. dollar.

American's revenue forecast, however, was less pessimistic than a month ago, and the company's shares rose in morning trading.

American Airlines Group Inc., which also owns US Airways and the American Eagle regional airline, said Friday that first-quarter revenue for every seat flown one mile will decline by between 1 percent and 3 percent compared with the same quarter in 2014. In February, the company had forecast a drop of between 2 percent and 4 percent.

That's a closely watched revenue figure, and a decline often signals lower average fares. Analyst Helane Becker of Cowen and Co. said American's less-pessimistic view Friday was likely due to cutting flights in struggling markets such as Latin America.

The Fort Worth-based company also said that traffic last month slipped 0.6 percent compared with March 2014, as passengers flew 18.4 billion miles. The company's airlines reduced capacity — usually by cutting flights, using smaller planes or making shorter flights — to avoid more empty seats. The average flight was 82.1 percent full, up from 81.8 percent a year earlier.

American indicated it is trimming its growth plans. For all of 2015, the company expects that capacity will increase 2 percent, down from an earlier forecast of 2 percent to 3 percent. In recent years, major U.S. airlines like American have held growth in check to keep planes full and prevent fares from falling.

In morning trading, American's shares were up 66 cents to $48.50. They began the day down 11 percent in 2015.

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