Low-cost airline easyJet's annual profits soared 51% today after efforts to attract more business travellers saw it fly more than 60 million passengers for the first time.
The profits haul sees easyJet shrug off turbulence hitting rivals such as Ryanair, which recently issued two profit warnings in as many months due to fare pressure, increased competition and Europe's continued economic problems.
The Luton-based carrier hailed the success of recent initiatives, such as allocated seating and fast-track security, for boosting its popularity with more affluent, older fliers and business passengers.
Profits surged to a new high of £478 million in the year to September 30, up from £317 million. Easyjet revealed plans to hand out a £175 million windfall to shareholders through a special dividend payment, which led to a 3% share price boost.
EasyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall said: “easyJet has delivered a strong full year performance and made significant progress against executing its strategic priorities.
"Our disciplined approach to capacity allocation has resulted in a meaningful growth in earnings and profit margin."
But easyJet signalled a tougher start to its new financial year as it comes up against tough comparisons from a year earlier when pent-up demand after the Olympics drove a leap in business. Bookings for the first half are so far flat on a year earlier, according to the firm.
EasyJet still expects to increase passenger numbers over the year ahead, with seats flown set to rise by around 3.5% in the first half and 5% in the full year - up from a 3.3% increase in the year to September 30. The number of those flown in the past year lifted 4% to a new milestone of 60.8 million.