Australian airlines continue to defy gravity compared to the sharp dives into quarterly losses posted overnight by Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa.

Singapore Airlines lost $SIN 307 million on a group basis in the three months to 30 June, the first quarter of its financial year, compared to a net profit of $SIN 358.6 million in the same quarter a year earlier.

Lufthansa lost € 216 million to in its first quarter to 30 June, compared to a profit of € 381 million in the corresponding period in 2008.

More to the point, these results support a probability that two carriers that were significantly more profitable than Qantas over the last year will remain in loss throughout their current financial years.

There is no guidance from Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa or Qantas as to their profitability in their current financial years.

But in their last full years Singapore Airlines reported at group net profit of $SIN 1.06 billion, (half the previous full year result), Lufthansa made a net € 1.4 billion, and Qantas (to 30 June 08) a net $969 million with a decline to a net $216 million in the six months to 31 December.

Singapore’s losses include over $100 million in three months by its air freight division. It is especially vulnerable to a down turn in the high value but individually small sized air freighted export of consumer items including computer and entertainment system components by air.

Despite the different balance dates the big picture is quite clear, two of the world’s seriously profitable carriers are in loss, and Qantas less affected, with its April guidance of a full year profit before tax to 30 June of between $100-200 million unchanged as of this morning. On or just before 19 August the Qantas results for its last year may reveal whether or by how close a margin it entered or avoided small losses in the six months to 30 June.

The major factors working for Qantas appear to be strong earnings from its loyalty program, and the cushioning of sharp declines in full service yields and passenger numbers by domestic and overseas growth by Jetstar.

The second largest but much smaller Virgin Blue airline group has already posted unaudited loss figures for the full year to 30 June of between $160-165 million and guidance of a break even outlook for the current financial year as the major start up costs of V Australia’s entry to the US market recede.

What distinguishes both Australian airline groups from the generally much worse trading environment abroad is a more resilient demand for air travel, reflecting a softer landing so far for the Australian economy and their financial and operational arrangements that seem strong enough to withstand a prolonged period of fare discounting because of cash reserves and effective capacity reductions.