British Airways on Friday predicted a return to breakeven next year, helped by recovering business-class traffic, after it posted a record 531 million pounds full-year loss, hit by strikes and winter snow.

The loss, the airline's largest annual deficit since it was privatized in 1987, follows last year's 401 million ($575 million). BA said its revenues for the year to the end of March fell 11 percent to 7.9 billion pounds but that its costs had come down by around 1 billion pounds.

We think we can break even on the pretax profit level in the next full-year, Chief Executive Willie Walsh told reporters on a conference call.

Long-haul premium traffic has recovered and reductions in short-haul traffic have eased. Market conditions are showing improvement from the depressed levels in 2009/10.

Shares in BA, which have dropped 17 percent in the last month, were 2.8 percent up at 191.5 pence by 0712 GMT, valuing the business at more than 2.2 billion pounds.

BA had been expected to report an average pretax loss of 590 million pounds, according to a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S poll of 17 analysts.

The results were severely affected by cabin crew strikes in March, which BA said cost it around 45 million pounds and are expected to continue next week.

BA also said its merger with Spain's Iberia , which is expected to generate 400 million euros ($496.6 million) a year in cost savings, would be complete by the end of 2010.

It also said it hoped plans to form a commercial alliance with American Airlines would be approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the EU by this summer.

BA said it made an operating loss of 145 million pounds in the fourth quarter -- down from 164 million in the same quarter a year ago.

Air France-KLM on Thursday predicted a return to breakeven this year after it posted a record full-year operating loss of 1.285 billion euros.

Earlier this week industry body IATA said demand for business and first-class seats rose in the first-quarter of 2010 but that premium travel was still some 15 percent below pre-recession levels.

British Airways' fourth quarter ended two weeks before ash from the eruption of an Icelandic volcano forced Europe to close many of its airports in mid-April, costing it up to 20 million pounds a day.

(Editing by Victoria Bryan, Mike Nesbit)

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