December 12, 2012 / 2:44 PM / 7 years ago

Delta expects 2013 profit growth, plans returns to shareholders

Delta Chief Executive Richard Anderson speaks during a news conference to announce the sale of Virgin Atlantic airline to Delta Air Lines, in New York December 11, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

(Reuters) - Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) said on Wednesday that it expected profit growth in 2013 and would introduce a plan to return cash to shareholders.

Chief Executive Officer Richard Anderson said during the carrier’s investor meeting webcast that Delta, the No. 2 U.S. airline behind United Continental Holdings Inc UAL.N, expected a profit of $1.6 billion for this year. He said 2013 would bring a “solid improvement” over 2012.

Delta said it expected fourth-quarter earnings of $200 million to $250 million, excluding items, despite disruptions caused by superstorm Sandy. The storm barreled through the U.S. Northeast in late October and led airlines to cancel thousands of flights as major New York area airports shut down.

The carrier said it expected to announce a capital deployment strategy next year, with the program starting in January 2014.

U.S. carriers have merged, stopped flying unprofitable routes and raised ticket prices to recover in recent years. Airlines have also created new revenue streams with baggage and food fees, moves that have helped deliver profits in the face of volatile fuel prices.

Delta supports industry consolidation, Anderson said, predicting that AMR Corp’s AAMRQ.PK American Airlines and US Airways Group Inc LCC.N will reach a deal soon. The two airlines are in talks on a potential merger.

Delta, which acquired Northwest Airlines in 2008, has cut costs while positioning itself for growth. Just on Tuesday, it announced the purchase of a 49 percent stake in British carrier Virgin Atlantic and a joint venture that will give it expanded access at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Reporting by Karen Jacobs; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn

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