CHATTANOOGA, Tenn, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Trucking company U.S. Xpress Enterprises Inc. on Wednesday said third-quarter profit fell sharply as costs rose faster than revenue amid an expansion of operations providing a ground-transportation alternative to airfreight.

The company said net income fell to $304,000, or 2 cents per share, from $1.4 million, or 10 cents per diluted share, a year earlier.

Six brokerage analysts surveyed by research firm Thomson Financial/FirstCall had been looking for the company to earn 4 to 6 cents per share, with a mean estimate of 5 cents.

U.S. Xpress reported revenues rose 5.2 percent to $207.5 million from $197.1 million, but total expenses rose 6.7 percent to $203.3 million from $190.5 million.

``The decline in third-quarter earnings over the prior-year period was primarily due to reduced operating margins in our floorcovering logistics operation and expenses associated with the rapid expansion of our deferred freight operation,'' said company co-Chairman Patrick Quinn.

Chattanooga, Tenn.-based U.S. Xpress specializes in shipping and logistics services for the floor-covering industry. Its ``deferred airfreight'' operations provide a cut-rate alternative to air cargo carriers.