EasyJet has confirmed a first winter half-year profit in 13 years after attracting more business travellers and reporting a strong ski season.
The budget carrier achieved a pre-tax profit of £7 million in the six months to the end of March against a loss of £53 million in the same period a year earlier.
Revenue rose by 3.8% to £1.76 billion as capacity grew by 3.6% to 32.2 million seats.
The carrier's average load factor was up by 0.7 percentage points to 89.7%.
However, easyJet reported April’s French air traffic control strikes cost £25 million as it was forced to cancel more than 600 flights.
Sales through global distribution systems grew by 59% in the half year as easyJet continued to increase its business travel sales via travel management companies.
The airline reported a 137% increase in inclusive fares targeting corporate travellers in the half year with the growth in passengers in line with expectations.
EasyJet said it “continues to see opportunities across Europe and recently strengthened its corporate focused sales team in France, Germany and the Netherlands whilst demonstrating commitment to TMCs through the launch of an industry focused channel”.
The carrier plans to increase summer capacity by 6.2%.
The carrier emphasised its leadership in digital technology with a range of mobile initiatives including the use of Apple’s touch ID and Google’s indoor mapping technology.
The airline revealed that all future Airbus A320 aircraft from May 2016 will have an increased capacity of 186 seats against 180 seats in existing aircraft. This will lead to a 2% cost saving per aircraft. Current 180-seat aircraft will be retrofitted from winter 2016.
However, the average seat pitch will not change as Airbus found more space could be made available at the rear of the aircraft.
“Our passengers’ comfort is important to us and we didn’t want to compromise on that,” easyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall told the BBC.
EasyJet also reiterated its support for a new runway at Heathrow, despite being the largest carrier at Gatwick.
The airline said: “EasyJet supports a new runway at Heathrow, as this best meets the needs of consumers, will bring the competitive benefits of low-cost carriers to an airport with very little competition on short-haul routes, and will also support London's connectivity needs."
McCall said: "EasyJet has delivered a record performance in the first half of the year by continuing to deliver its strategy of making travel easy and affordable for passengers.
“The profit in the half reflects the delivery of our customer focused revenue initiatives and a strong finish to the ski season as well as the benefit we received from the lower fuel price and favourable foreign exchange movements.
“As we enter the important summer season forward bookings are in line with last year and as we predicted passengers are benefitting as fares fall to reflect a more competitive operating environment and lower fuel costs.
“EasyJet continues to be well positioned to grow revenue and profit this year, delivering sustainable returns to shareholders due to its compelling network, low cost base and strong balance sheet."
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