Composite costs for U.S. airlines -- including expenses such as labor, fuel and commissions -- rose 5% in the third quarter, according to figures released Thursday by the Air Transport Association. But higher revenue and greater efficiency helped to offset the cost increases, allowing airlines to break even with just 75.9% of their seats filled with paying passengers. The so-called break-even load factor was the lowest reported since early 2001. "Thanks to a strengthening economy and the continuing efforts of airlines to adapt to a volatile environment, the increase in costs did not stand in the way of profitability this quarter," ATA's chief economist noted. "Nonetheless, with costs likely to continue rising in this period of economic uncertainty, financial discipline remains paramount."
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