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Astronics Corp.'s third-quarter profits rose by 38 percent as the Buffalo-based company got strong performances from its electronics and specialty printing and packaging businesses, the firm said Tuesday.

Astronics, which makes electroluminescent lighting systems for airplanes and other products, as well as folding boxes and imprinted products for specialized markets, said its earnings rose to $937,000, or 18 cents per share, from $678,000, or 13 cents per share, a year ago.

Astronics' earnings now have increased for 14 straight quarters, rising at a rate of 40 percent a year during that time.

The company's sales also improved, although at a slower pace than earnings. Sales rose by 12 percent to $10.2 million from $9.1 million a year ago as revenues increased for the 13th straight quarter.

"It was a solid quarter," said John M. Yessa, Astronics' vice president of finance. "It was just a meat and potatoes quarter."

Most of the improvement in sales came from the specialty printing and packaging business, where revenues grew by 16 percent from a year ago.

Sales at its electronics segment rose by 9 percent, mostly because last year's revenues included results from its Rodgard Division in Buffalo, which has been sold to Hutchinson Industries Inc. of New Jersey for $2.25 million. Without Rodgard, Astronics' total sales rose by 18 percent, while revenues from the electronics business grew by 20 percent, Yessa said.

The greatest improvement in earnings came from the company's electronics systems business, which was bolstered because Astronics has finished the process of integrating Loctite Luminescent Systems Inc., a New Hampshire maker of lighting systems for dashboards and airplane cockpits, Yessa said. The New Hampshire firm was acquired in November 1995.

Astronics' backlog of orders grew to $11.4 million at the end of September from $10.1 million at the end of last year. "We see increased opportunity for growing market share," Yessa said.

For the first three quarters of this year, Astronics' profits rose by 52 percent to $2.17 million, or 41 cents per share, from $1.42 million, or 27 cents per share, a year ago. Sales grew by 4 percent to $29.5 million from $28.3 million. Sales from continuing operations rose by 9 percent.

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