Air France-KLM has said its 2023 bookings were almost back to pre-pandemic levels as it reported a better-than expected fourth-quarter operating profit with global travel demand seeing a rebound.
The airline's shares rose more than 6% in early trade on Friday 17 February, hitting their highest since June and outperforming the broader weak stock market. The pan-European STOXX 600 .STOXX was down 0.85% at 0805 GMT on Friday 17 February.
The carrier reported its highest fourth-quarter revenue at €7.1 billion, up almost 50% year-on-year.
Operating profit fell 45% to €134 million on the back of higher costs including fuel, but it beat estimates.
Last year was a difficult one with the travel industry struggling with pandemic-related restrictions and as prices of jet fuel and other key products soared due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, chief financial officer Steven Zaat said.
Air France also lost €170 million in revenue last year due to travel disruptions at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport after the airport restricted capacity last year due to staff shortages.
"I'm very happy that we can say now that 2022 Q4 ended better than where we ended in Q4 2019," Zaat added.
The company said it was on track to fully pay back French state aid by April 2023, reporting a net debt of €6.3 billion, down 1.9 billion euros from the previous year.
Zaat, however, said staffing shortages at Schiphol airport may not be resolved before end-June.
Royal Schiphol Group said on Friday 17 February it was not certain when the airport will return to 2019 levels of traffic, given continuing operational difficulties and a 440,000 per year flight cap imposed by the Dutch government.
"It is improving, so that's very good to see. Of course, we are still impacted by the fact that there are labour shortages everywhere, but also at the airport ... but we see that gradually operations are actually back on track," Zaat said.
Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith also warned that European airlines would have to go head-to-head with Chinese carriers, which are still able to fly over Russian airspace.
"Between Paris and Seoul, it can add up to three hours in flight time," Smith told The Financial Times. "If you've got a Chinese carrier that is flying over Russia, they've got an unfair advantage over us."
Air France-KLM Interested In Portugal's TAP, Says Smith
The above news was followed by news that Air France-KLM chief executive Ben Smith on Friday 17 February reiterated that the airline was interested in Portugal's soon to be privatised TAP, noting the carrier's strong position in Brazil.
"We find (TAP's) network into Brazil extremely powerful for us," he told a media conference.
The Portuguese government, which owns TAP, has said it is considering an outright or partial sale of the business.
Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and Aer Lingus owner IAG are among potential buyers, analysts say.
TAP posted a rare net profit in the third quarter of 2022.