British budget airline easyJet defied the gloom surrounding the global airline sector by posting strong growth in quarterly revenue, helped by an uplift in the number of business passengers and milder winter weather.
Europe’s second largest low-cost carrier said on Thursday revenue jumped 16.7 percent to GBP£763 million (USD$1.2 billion) in the three months to December, as passenger numbers rose 8.1 percent to 12.9 million in its first quarter.
The Luton, southern England-based company said costs per seat, excluding fuel, fell 1.6 percent during the quarter, and it expected its seasonal first-half loss to be roughly the same as in 2010/11.
“Assuming no significant disruption in the second quarter, easyJet expects to recover most of the GBP£100 million increase in its first-half fuel bill and contain first-half losses to between GBP£140 million and GBP£160 million compared to the GBP£153 million loss reported in the first half of last year,” chief executive Carolyn McCall said.
“Carolyn McCall’s second full year in charge is off to a good start, helped by the mild winter weather. Both pricing and cost control have been strong,” said Charles Stanley analyst Douglas McNeill.
EasyJet’s European peers have struggled to overcome high oil prices and sluggish demand in recent months, with low-cost airlines expected to pick up more business as struggling European consumers trade down.
German group Lufthansa and Air France-KLM have cut profit forecasts after being battered by fuel costs and cut plans to expand in 2012.
Industry body IATA recently said it expected airlines to suffer this year due to waning consumer confidence, sluggish international trade and high fuel prices.
McCall said she was “cautiously confident” in the outlook for the business, despite the tough economic environment and the negative impact of a weak euro.
Last year, easyJet agreed a string of deals aimed at giving it a larger share of the business travel market.
The airline said some 200,000 more business passengers flew with the carrier in the quarter year-on-year, despite a general decline in business travel.
EasyJet, the largest airline at London’s Gatwick airport, expected to grow seats flown by around 3 percent for its first half and by around 5 percent for the full year. It said around 70 percent of available seats for the first half were already booked.
Late last year easyJet paid its first dividend after full-year profit rose a third.