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Lufthansa's operating loss narrows on lower fuel costs

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — German airline Lufthansa, still coping with the aftermath of the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525, saw its operating losses narrow in the first quarter as fuel costs fell in the wake of lower oil prices.

Its operating loss of 167 million euros ($185 million) compared with a 240 million-euro deficit a year ago. Fuel was 14 percent cheaper — 36 percent when the airline's hedging of fuel costs on financial markets is considered.

The airline also said it saw higher costs for pension contributions, as low interest rates mean it must put aside more money to meet its obligations. Six days of pilot strikes during the quarter also dented earnings.

Once everything is accounted for, Lufthansa said Tuesday that it returned to profit during the period thanks to a 503 million-euro one-off gain as the airline accounted for realized gains on shares in U.S. airline JetBlue. Net profit came in at 425 million euros, an improvement on a loss of 252 million euros in the year-ago quarter.

Lufthansa is still reeling from the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 on March 24 in southern France. Investigators say co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately locked the pilot out of the cockpit and flew the plane into the mountains, killing himself and 149 others. Lubitz had been treated for depression.

Lufthansa's profitability is under pressure due to competition from low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and EasyJet on short-haul routes in Europe, and from state-connected airlines based in the Mideast such as Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways on long-haul routes. It faces labor strife over its efforts to reduce costs.

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