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Protests hit Air France KLM, overshadowing Dutch traffic rise

Protests hit Air France KLM, overshadowing Dutch traffic rise
FILE PHOTO: An Air France Airbus A320-200 airplane takes off at the Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Roissy, near Paris, France, August 26, 2018. Picture taken August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo -
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Christian Hartmann(Reuters)
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By Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) - Air France KLM <AIRF.PA> said anti-government protests in France had hit its revenue, taking the shine off a rise in its overall December passenger traffic figures and knocking its shares.

Analysts said the latest passenger data showed that the Dutch KLM airline was again doing better than Air France, with KLM and the smaller Transavia division flying fuller planes.

"The rise in passenger numbers was essentially led by KLM and Transavia, whereas the performance at Air France was more flat," Gregoire Laverne of Roche Brune Asset Management, which does not hold shares in the airline, said.

Air France KLM said the "yellow vest" protests, which have been marred by violence and disrupted shopping areas and the transport network, were estimated to have had a negative revenue impact of around 15 million euros (£13.5 million).

A spokeswoman for Air France KLM said it had arrived at the estimate by taking into account last minute cancellations of bookings that had occurred as a result of the protests, which started in mid-November but intensified and grew more violent over the course of December.

The airline said in a statement that it carried around 7.7 million passengers in December, up 3.6 percent from a year earlier, while for the whole of 2018 it flew around 101 million passengers, 2.8 percent higher than the previous year.

Shares in Air France KLM, which is due to report full-year earnings on Feb. 20, were down 3.7 percent at 1150 GMT.

Air France KLM hired Benjamin Smith as its new group chief executive in August, after devastating strikes led to his predecessor's resignation. Smith has said Air France must narrow the profitability gap with its more efficient KLM stable mate.

Analysts at Credit Suisse kept a "neutral" rating on Air France KLM, highlighting the pressures of the French protests.

"We see a key driver of the differential between Air France and KLM load factors as the 'gilets jaunes' protests in France, which have cost 15 million euros, or around 0.3 percent of unit revenue in the quarter," Credit Suisse said in a research note.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Sunil Nair/Gopakumar Warrier/Alexander Smith)

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