The Air Travel Trust (ATT) which pays out to holidaymakers when a travel firm fails has returned to surplus for the first time in 17 years.

The ATT annual report published this morning confirmed a fund surplus of £18 million – the first time it has been in the black since 1996.

The fund was in deficit to the tune of £18.45 million a year ago and was £42 million in the red as recently as March 2011.

The trustees report they took in £48.1 million in Atol Protection Contributions (APC) in the year to March, up from £42.6 million in the previous 12 months.

The £5.6 million increase was mainly due to Flight-Plus Atol payments following introduction of the licence for flight-plus bookings in April last year.

The ATT reported 19.2 million passengers made Atol payments in 2012-13, up from 17.3 million the previous year.

At the same time there were only 11 Atol company failures during 2012-13, representing a cost to the fund of £844,000.

This was down from 23 failures costing more than £14 million in 2011-12.

Only 37 passengers had to be repatriated during the 12 months and 1,354 were entitled to refunds.

ATT chairman Roger Mountford said: “The relatively low number of Atol-holder failures shows how well the travel industry performed last year, despite challenging financial circumstances.

“The industry worked alongside the Civil Aviation Authority to prepare for Atol reform, which was essential to ensure the scheme reflected the changing way people book holidays.

“This more stable period has resulted in the ATT’s welcome return to surplus, and with Flight-Plus successfully in place, consumers now enjoy greater protection for their holidays.”

Mountford added: “The introduction of the Atol certificate has also brought much-needed clarity to the scheme.”

Atol Certificates were introduced last October.