Flybe has posted record load factors having reduced the size of its regional fleet.

The airline saw its load factors increase from 72.5% to 81.3% in the first quarter of the financial year, as passenger numbers grew 3.3% to 2.5 million.

A 9.4% increase in passenger revenue per seat was also noted in the regional carrier’s trading statement this morning, which led to a 0.8% growth in overall passenger revenue to £176.8 million, up from £175.4 million

Seat capacity was down 7.9% to 3.1 million, from 3.4 million last year, and Flybe saw a 2.4% decline in passenger yield to £70.16, down from £71.89 in 2017/18.

The regional airline said “cost control remains a key area of focus and the benefits are beginning to come through”.

Cost per seat increased 14.1%, which the airline put down to the lower value of sterling, but it said it expected the rise in cost per seat to slow.

Its fleet has been reduced to 78 as three aircraft were returned at the end of their leases, as Flybe works towards its “optimum fleet size” of 70, expected by 2020.

Flybe’s on time performance has been affected by air traffic control strikes in France, the airline noted the day after major airlines signed a joint complaint to the EU over the industrial action which they say inhibits passengers’ freedom to travel.

Looking forward, Flybe said there has been a 9% decrease in seat capacity for quarter 2, while 55% of seats have been sold compared to 51% of seats this time last year.

It expects a 6.8% increase in passenger revenue per seat year-on-year.

Christine Ourmières-Widener, Flybe’s chief executive officer, said: “The improvement in our revenue per seat continues to demonstrate the success of our commercial strategy and the record load factors show that passengers value the benefits of regional connectivity with Flybe.

“We are working hard on costs, with unit cost growth now starting to slow whilst unit revenue remains strong. Our digital platform once fully rolled out, along with enhancing our operational effectiveness are key to improving our customer proposition at Flybe.

“The year has started well. We are on track and looking forward to further progress towards sustainable profitability.”

Meanwhile, Flybe has appointed Liz McMeikan as senior independent director.

She will take the role from September 13, after the regional airline’s annual general meeting concludes.

McMeikan, who will chair Flybe’s audit committee, has been an independent non-executive director of the company since 2014 and is a member of the nomination, audit, the safety and security committees, and chair of the remuneration committee.

She takes over from David Kappler, who is stepping down after the AGM.

Flybe has also announced that Heather Lawrence will become the chair of the audit committee from the close of the AGM. She joined the board as an independent non-executive director in May this year and, as a qualified accountant, has a background in finance and investment banking.