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By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times

Thanks to declining fuel prices, the nation’s airlines reported healthy profits in 2013 and can expect a record number of passengers on international flights this spring.

That was the message Wednesday from Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation’s air carriers, which has become accustomed to reporting razor-thin profits in the past few years.

Based on the financial reports of nine U.S. airlines, Airlines for America estimated that the industry enjoyed a net profit of $11.6 billion, or 7.8 percent of revenue, the trade group said. In contrast, the industry reported a 3.3 percent profit margin in 2010.

The key to the improved financial picture was a 3.6 percent drop in the cost of fuel, which remains the largest and most volatile expense for airlines, according to the trade group.

The number of passengers on U.S. carriers is expected to rise to the highest level in six years, with a record number flying internationally. About 128.2 million passengers are expected to fly on U.S. carriers during March and April, with 17.1 million travelers on international flights, the group said.

“We attribute the increase in spring air travel to rising U.S. household net worth, an improving economy and the affordability of air travel, which remains one of the best bargains for consumers,” said John Heimlich, vice president and chief economist for the trade group.

The impact of a series of severe storms this winter has been diminished by the efforts of airlines to proactively cancel flights and rebook reservations automatically, the trade group said.

Photo: Shyb via Flickr

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