Virgin Atlantic says annual profits almost double


May 28, 2010 Updated May 28, 2010 at 6:40 PM EDT

British airline Virgin Atlantic said Tuesday that profits almost doubled in 2008/09, in contrast to a large annual loss at rival British Airways, despite choppy oil prices and a fierce recession.

Virgin Atlantic said in a statement that pre-tax profits rocketed by 96.5 percent to 68.4 million pounds (78 million euros, 108 million dollars) in the 12 months to the end of February.

That compared with 34.8 million pounds in the group's previous 2007/08 financial year.

The airline added Tuesday that it carried 5.8 million passengers in the past year, driven by rising demand for premium travel, despite a deep recession in home market Britain.

Virgin Atlantic, which is not listed on the stock market, is 51-percent owned by tycoon Richard Branson. Singapore Airlines owns the remaining 49 percent.

"To increase profits against a backdrop of such a severe recession is an excellent achievement by all of our staff," said Branson.

Virgin spent nearly 1.0 billion pounds in fuel costs but the group was helped by "hedging" its position on oil prices.

On Friday, BA had posted a pre-tax loss of 401 million pounds for 2008/09 and blamed high fuel costs and slumping demand.

Airlines seek to protect themselves against volatile oil prices by hedging -- or taking a defensive position on futures markets. Jet fuel, or kerosene, is refined from crude.

Virgin Atlantic, which celebrates its 25th birthday next month, has a fleet of 38 planes and about 8,500 staff.

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