Virgin beats rival BA with rising profits

AIRLINE Virgin Atlantic, controlled by Richard Branson&rsquo;s Virgin Group, saw its pre-tax profit almost double to &pound;68.4m in the year ending February &ndash; trouncing British Airways (BA), which last week announced record losses.<br /><br />Virgin said profits were boosted by an increase in premium travel. It is taking market share from rivals, including BA, in the high-margin business and first-class end of the market.<br /><br />Virgin Atlantic sales rose 8.4 per cent during the year to the end of February to &pound;2.6bn, compared to &pound;2.4bn in the previous year.<br /><br />Branson praised his staff for the &ldquo;excellent achievement&rdquo; despite the tough trading environment and volatile oil prices, which have heaped pressure on airlines globally. In the previous year, pre-tax profits at the airline were &pound;34.8m.<br /><br />The Virgin results were far better than those of its nearest rival, BA, which last week reported a full year loss of &pound;401m.<br /><br />But analysts warned of a bumpy ride for Virgin this summer, despite the strong full year results, pointing out the last quarter of the airline&rsquo;s financial year was turbulent.<br /><br />Branson himself used the bumper profits to relaunch the battle between Virgin and BA over the former&rsquo;s proposed tie-up with American Airlines (AA). He said that plans by BA and AA to &ldquo;effectively merge&rdquo; were anti-competitive.<br /><br />The Department of Transportation will rule on BA&rsquo;s and AA&rsquo;s plans to join forces on highly-lucrative transatlantic routes by the end of October.