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The Associated Press April 5, 2010, 10:54AM ET

AirTran Airways says traffic rose 9.6 percent

AirTran Airways said Monday that traffic in March rose 9.6 percent to a new record for the discount carrier, another sign of improving travel demand.

The airline said its March traffic and average occupancy were records for March and the first quarter.

AirTran said paying passengers flew 1.74 billion miles last month, up from 1.59 billion miles in March 2009.

Capacity rose 5.5 percent, to 2.07 billion available seat miles, which is a measure of one seat flying one mile.

Average occupancy, or load factor, rose to 83.8 percent in March, up from 80.7 percent a year ago.

The AirTran report followed Friday's news from Continental Airlines Inc. that traffic grew 5.2 percent in March, helped by gains on international routes. The recession hurt travel last year, and most major U.S. carriers lost money. Analysts expect most will turn a profit this year.

For the full first quarter, AirTran said traffic rose 7.5 percent, capacity increased 6.1 percent, and occupancy rose to 77.2 percent from 76.3 percent.

Shares of parent AirTran Holdings Inc. rose 2 cents to $5.09 in morning trading.

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