UPDATE 2-Finnair confident of cash cushion as it awaits recovery

(Adds CEO comments from press conference, outlook)

HELSINKI, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Finnish flag carrier Finnair on Thursday reported a third straight quarterly operating loss as the coronavirus pandemic weighed and forecast another quarter in the red as it waits for vaccinations to kickstart a recovery in passenger traffic.

The airline is operating a limited network and said it expected operating losses in the first quarter of 2021 to be similar to the preceding three quarters.

Finnair provided no guidance on 2021 revenues, but said it is well prepared to make it through the pandemic and focused on improving competitiveness.

“Even if Finnair operated very few flights in the coming 12 months, our cash funds would still be enough,” Chief Executive Topi Manner said at a press conference.

“When looking at our equity ratio, there are not many airlines in the world who could show a similar picture,” he added.

Like many other airlines, Finnair expects travel to begin recovering during the northern hemisphere summer as coronavirus vaccines are increasingly rolled out and restrictions eased.

“We have enhanced the agility of our operations so that we can act fast when our customers are again ready to travel,” Manner said.

The company is awaiting EU approval for an unsecured hybrid loan granted by the Finnish government, which holds a 55.9% stake in Finnair. Manner said that the process will be finished soon.

Finnair reported an operating loss of 162.9 million euros ($196 million) in the final quarter of 2020, compared to a 167 million euro loss in July-September and a profit of 31.2 million euros a year earlier.

For full-year 2020, Finnair’s revenue fell nearly three quarters to 829.2 million euros while the number of passengers it flew tumbled 76% compared to 2019.

The board of directors proposed that no dividend be distributed for 2020.

$1 = 0.8302 euros Reporting by Essi Lehto; editing by Niklas Pollard and Carmel Crimmins