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Continental Airlines Inc. said on Wednesday that a closely watched measure of revenue jumped as much as 19 percent in August, even as traffic fell.
Many of the big airlines shrank their fleets during the recession, but fares are generally up from last year. That has made it possible for airlines to collect more money for flying even as they fly less.
Continental said its revenue per available seat mile -- a closely watched ratio of revenue to capacity -- rose 18 percent to 19 percent in August. That followed a 21 percent rise in July and a 21.5 percent in June.
Traffic for the month was down 0.4 percent from August 2009, counting both mainline and feeder carriers. Continental said it flew 8.7 billion revenue passenger miles, or one paying passenger flown one mile. That was down from almost 8.8 billion a year earlier.
Continental mainline flights saw traffic fall 0.7 percent, while it rose 2 percent on regional carriers flying as Continental Express or Continental Connection.
Capacity -- the number of seats times the number of miles it flew -- fell 1.1 percent to 10.12 billion available seat miles. Capacity fell 1.3 percent on Continental's mainline flights while rising 0.3 percent on Continental Connection flights.
Its planes were fuller. Continental's load factor, or occupancy, for the month was 86.5 percent, up 0.7 percentage points from August 2009.
UBS analyst Kevin Crissey wrote in a note that Continental's results and UBS data suggest that revenue slowed in July, especially in domestic markets, while international flights remained strong.
"Despite some revenue softness in domestic markets, trends for early fall remain decent," he wrote.
Industrywide airline capacity is up 2 percent, Crissey wrote, with discount carriers up more than so-called "legacy" carriers like Continental. However, airlines will add more capacity in the fourth quarter, he wrote.
Houston-based Continental is planning to combine with United Airlines to form the world's biggest carrier. Shareholder votes are planned for Sept. 17.
For the first eight months of the year, traffic rose 2.9 percent to 62.4 billion revenue passenger miles. Capacity was flat at about 74.72 billion available seat miles. Load factor rose 2.4 percentage points to 83.5 percent.
Continental shares rose 83 cents, or 3.7 percent, to close $23.17.