Air France-KLM, the world’s biggest airline by turnover, said on Wednesday that it was aiming to break even in the current quarter and forecast “very strong” results for the full year to the end of March.

The winter three months from January to March are traditionally the weakest quarter for northern hemisphere airlines.

Operating profits in the third quarter rose by 32.6 per cent to €252m ($330m, £169m) and increased in the first nine months by 31 per cent to €1.23bn.

The group, formed from the takeover of KLM, the Dutch flag carrier, by Air France three years ago, said that its passenger operations had been “dynamic” in the third quarter with “buoyant” unit revenues, helped by favourable economic developments including a drop in oil prices back to the levels of a year ago.

Cargo activity had experienced another difficult quarter, however, in which competition had been “highly aggressive”.

Overall turnover rose by 5.9 per cent in the third quarter to €5.75bn and by 8.8 per cent in the nine months to the end of December to €17.7bn.

Pre-tax profits in the third quarter doubled from €108m to €216m, but fell in the nine months from €1.27bn to €1.05bn, as the results had been inflated a year ago by gross capital gains of €504m from the sale of Air France shares in Amadeus, the European travel distribution and information technology group.

Air France-KLM, in which the French state still holds an 18 per cent stake, is continuing to gain market share in Europe thanks to the strength of its network from its dual hubs at Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam Schiphol airports.

In the third quarter, passenger traffic rose by 4.3 per cent, just below a 4.7 per cent rise in capacity, which enabled the airline to fill 79.8 per cent of its available seats. In the nine months Air France-KLM increased its capacity by 5 per cent, while traffic volumes rose by 5.7 per cent.

The strength of demand, in particular from premium business travellers, allowed the airline to continue raising its average fares with yields rising by 4.3 per cent year-on-year in the quarter.

Rising revenues also offset a 20.1 per cent jump in the fuel bill in the nine months to €3.26bn.

In the nine months operating profits from the passenger business jumped by 48 per cent to €1.03bn, while operating profits from cargo activities fell by 41 per cent to €84m.

The group said that it had benefited from the increase in interest rates, as the amount of cash invested at variable rates exceeded the level of variable rate debt.

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