Page last updated at 08:51 GMT, Tuesday, 26 August 2008 09:51 UK

Business travellers boost Virgin

Virgin Atlantic boss Steve Ridgway

Record numbers of business travellers have boosted profits at Virgin Atlantic despite sky-high fuel prices.

The airline, 51% owned by Sir Richard Branson, saw pre-tax profits hit 34.8m ($64m) in the 2007/2008 financial year, up from 6m the year before.

It said premium passenger numbers rose 22% during the year, as Virgin took market share from BA and other rivals.

Virgin also said that it gained passengers from BA because of problems at of Heathrow's Terminal 5.

Terminal 5 was hit by severe disruption due to baggage-handling problems shortly after it opened in March.

Customer focus

Virgin has managed to defy the gloom that has afflicted much of the airline industry.

Carriers have been hurt by rising fuel prices and reduced spending on flights as a global economic downturn hits consumers' pockets.

Spanish airline Iberia and Hong Kong's Cathay have reported losses, while others such as British Airways and Air France-KLM have seen profits fall sharply.

"While the outlook remains pretty overcast for the aviation industry, the winners will be those airlines that focus on offering the best customer service," said Steve Ridgway, Virgin Atlantic's chief executive.

"We have diversified our route network, focused on providing the best product in Upper Class, Premium Economy and Economy, hedged our fuel purchasing and built up a strong cash position," he added.

Virgin flew a total of 5.7 million passengers during the year, up 7.6%.

The airline said it had begun the current financial year on a firm footing, with sales between April and June up 16% to 645.3m.

Virgin Atlantic specialises in long-haul routes to North America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.

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