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Airlines report $9.3 billion net profits, highest since 2006

With the help of low fuel costs and strong travel demand, the nation's airlines reported the highest quarterly profits since before the economic recession.

From July to September, the nation's largest airlines reported net income of $9.3 billion, up from $3.1 billion in the same period of 2014, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The latest numbers represent the highest profits since the first quarter of 2006, when the airlines reported net income of $20.8 billion, according to the federal agency.

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U.S. airlines reported operating revenue of $45.2 billion in the third quarter, compared with $45.3 billion in the same period a year earlier.

The higher profits were boosted in part because fuel costs have dropped 35% in the past year, to $1.32 a gallon, according to the International Air Transport Assn., a trade group for the world's airlines. 

Airlines also raised profits by squeezing more passengers per cabin. The rate of filled seats per plane — known as the "load factor" — rose to 83.88% for the first nine months of 2015, compared with 83.76% in the same period last year, according to the Department of Transportation.

Fees from checked bags generated $1 billion, up from about $960 million in the same period in 2014, according to the Department of Transportation. Reservation change fees generated an additional $755 million, down from $759 million in the same period in 2014.

The airline industry can expect demand to continue to remain strong, according to a survey of more than 44,000 travelers worldwide.

More than three-fourths of those surveyed (78%) said they plan to spend more or the same on vacation in 2016 as they did in 2015, according to the survey commissioned by the travel website TripAdvisor.com.  

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To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow Hugo Martin on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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