Flybe has defied the gloom among airlines by reporting a substantial rise in profits and a 46% increase in turnover for the year to March following its takeover of former British Airways’ subsidiary BA Connect last year.

The regional carrier reported an underlying annual profit of £35.4 million, up by £20 million on the previous year, and a turnover of £536 million. It reported a further £12 million profit for the three months to June – 14% up on the previous year – with passenger numbers rising 18% year on year for the quarter.

Flybe chief commercial officer Mike Rutter said the carrier had defied the downturn in leisure traffic affecting other airlines due to the resilience of its customer base. Business travellers make up 45% of Flybe passengers, with 33% defining themselves as visiting friends and family and only 22% as leisure travellers.

“Our customer base is not about flying to Tallinn for a stag weekend,” said Rutter.

The airline has also benefited from its investment in more fuel-efficient aircraft. Rutter said the carrier’s fuel-burn has been cut by 37% over five years. Fuel comprises about half as much of the airline’s costs as at some of its rivals.

Flybe has grown rapidly to become the UK’s largest regional carrier, increasing passenger numbers from under two million in 2001 to seven million last year, and Rutter confirmed the carrier is close to the limits of domestic expansion. But it is well-placed to take over regional carriers elsewhere in Europe if the opportunities arise, he said.

The airline’s chief executive, Jim French, said: “This gives us a major opportunity to maximise opportunities that will surely come as the industry enters a period of consolidation.”

Flybe will reduce its planned capacity by 9.5% this winter by reducing the frequency of services on some routes. But unlike carriers such as Ryanair, it will not ground aircraft and Rutter said it would not cut any routes.