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Soaring sales from a major contract to install new cockpit lighting systems in F-16 fighter jets helped Astronics Corp.'s third-quarter profits shoot up by 17 percent, the Buffalo-based company said Thursday.

And Astronics' top executive said he expects the company to continue to produce "strong sales and healthy earnings," even with the slowdown in its commercial aviation business following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"In the near term, we will have to be adaptive and nimble," said Kevin Keane, Astronics' chairman, president and chief executive officer.

While Astronics' commercial aviation business may suffer because of the drop in air travel, the company expects to sell more spare parts to the U.S. military. And he expects the company's specialty printing and packaging business to keep growing at the 19 percent pace it has so far this year.

"There are enough offsets for the things that make me feel uneasy," Keane said. "At times like this, we especially appreciate the diversity."

Astronics' profits rose to $1.69 million, or 25 cents per share, from $1.44 million, or 22 cents per share, a year ago, as the company extended its streak of rising earning to 29 consecutive quarters. Sales grew by 20 percent to $20.8 million from $17.4 million.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, Astronics has shifted some of its resources away from its commercial aviation business, which has lost some orders and would be hurt by lower commercial jet production.

"We've noticed some cutback in orders, but it's not clear how that's going to play out over the next three, six or nine months," said Peter Gundermann, the president of Astronics' aerospace and electronics business. "It's a question of when people start flying again."

Instead, Astronics has moved those resources into its military business, where Keane expects a significant increase in spare parts orders.

Astronics aerospace and electronics business doubled its operating profits during the third quarter to $1.8 million as sales on the F-16 contract soared by 82 percent to $5.8 million. Total sales for the aerospace business grew by 24 percent to $13 million.

Operating profits at the company's specialty printing and packaging business fell by 25 percent to $908,000, while sales grew by 13 percent because of rising revenues from its custom folding carton products and its short-run commercial printing orders.


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