FLYBE has returned to profit for the first time in four years as it hailed the impact of its turnaround plan and reported a 6.9 per cent increase in passenger numbers.

The regional air carrier booked pre-tax profits of £8.1 million for the year ended March 31, which followed a £41.1 million loss the year before.

Exeter-based Flybe generated cost savings of £47 million last year as it made 133 staff redundant across its operations in Scotland and closed regional bases in Aberdeen and Inverness.

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Savings were also made by axing and reducing the frequency on its worst-performing routes.

The company, which it expects the savings to rise to £71 million this year, has axed 1100 jobs so far.

Chief commercial officer Paul Simmons said the restructure, allied to a £150 million share issue which strengthened its capital base in February, had given the company a solid platform for future growth".

Mr Simmons said: "Have we achieved it quicker than we thought? Maybe, but it's not the end game where we are now.

"What we have managed to get is a stable business in terms of the cost base.

"The unfortunate things we had to do in taking cost out during the year really were necessary, and that comes through in the results in terms of the money that is taken out.

"The second side of the equation is that we have been more successful in trading the business in terms of g etting more people to fly on the available seats by lowering the average prices.

"We're out of the sick bay and into the starting blocks, but it's not the end result by any means. We have to be very careful, very judicious to grow."

Flybe, which runs services to 64 airports in the UK and Europe, reported a 6.9 per cent increase in passenger numbers to 7.7 million last year. This came in spite of a 1.4 per cent reduction in seat capacity, sparked by the removal of loss-making routes and scaling back flight frequency on others.

Passenger revenue per seat rose by 1.8 per cent to £49.70.

Flybe, which reduced its UK base network from 13 to seven under the restructuring, saw group revenue edge up by one per cent to £620.5 million.

Revenue under management grew 11.1 per cent growth to £868.4 million, driven by its Flybe Nordic joint venture. Flybe holds a 60 per cent stake in the venture, with the balance held by Finnair.

Asked to assess current conditions in the sector, Mr Simmons said: "The market can be strong, as demonstrated by us growing our passenger numbers overall on flying fewer seats around.

"You just have to be quite careful where you fly to, when you fly, what the pricing is. You really have to be quite detailed and numeric in the way your plan your schedules and your operation."

Mr Simmons revealed Flybe will announce a new route to an undisclosed city from Scotland today. The new route builds on the recently-announced service to London City Airport from Edinburgh and Inverness, which launches in October.

He said: "There are no big plans coming - it's just a case of steady growth and growth that's sustainable [so] people can rely on us. We are showing good passenger growth in Scotland as well as the UK." He added that the company will continue to campaign against Air Passenger Duty, claiming it is unfair on regional carriers as it accounts for a disproportionate part of the fares and stating it is levied twice on those routes.

Shares in Flybe closed down 2.5p at 137.5p.