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SkyWest Inc. on Wednesday posted a third-quarter profit of $20.9 million, or 40 cents per share, exceeding the expectations of Wall Street analysts who were looking for 31 cents a share.

The net income was a marked turnaround from the same quarter of last year, when the St. George-based regional airline holding company earned just $100,000, or slightly more than zero cents per share.

"This was a better result than the consensus estimate [of earnings], and is the third consecutive quarter where we have performed better than the estimates," Chief Financial Officer Mike Kraupp said in a conference call with analysts.

SkyWest President Brad Rich said the results were pleasing but still short of the company's financial objectives developed last year when the airline was struggling. SkyWest reported losses in the first and fourth quarters of 2011 and the first quarter of this year.

"We do remain very focused on revenue improvement, as well as cost reduction initiatives that are part of an overall profit improvement strategy,'' Rich said. "The results that we are reporting this morning I believe are another indication that the plan is gaining momentum and will be successful.''

Revenue came in below expectations, however. SkyWest pulled in $865.3 million in the quarter, down from $955.4 million in the third quarter of 2011. Analysts surveyed by Thompson Reuters thought revenue would reach $964.6 million.

Kraupp said revenue fell because its major airline partners — Delta Air Lines and United Airlines — have changed their fuel-buying strategies. Instead of reimbursing SkyWest for the fuel it buys for its SkyWest Airlines and ExpressJet Airlines subsidiaries, the carriers have increased the amount of fuel they buy directly for SkyWest. The purchases cut back fuel reimbursements that SkyWest Inc. records as revenue by $88 million.

Passenger revenue, however, increased 1.4 percent.

SkyWest is the biggest carrier in the regional airline industry, which operates half the nation's scheduled flights. Several regional airlines are being closed or are in bankruptcy protection as the bigger airlines they fly for are grounding smaller, costlier aircraft and cutting back service to cities where passenger demand is too low.

Rich said the turmoil is supplying "opportunities" for cash-rich SkyWest, which had $739 million on hand as of Sept. 30. While he didn't divulge specific opportunities that SkyWest is exploring, Rich did say the company is "aggressively looking for ways" to exploit the upheaval and is ready for what might happen.

"We know that we are at a really important and critical time in the industry," he said. "What is most important to SkyWest is that we are prepared. We are doing [our] best, and have been preparing a long time for this particular situation."

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