Excel lifted by online air bookings

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The Independent Online

The low-cost charter airline Excel Airways saw its market value soar yesterday after the company reported a fourfold increase in profits, helped by the move into the direct selling of seats to passengers through the internet.

Shares in the airline, which floated last year on AIM, rose by 45 per cent to 192.5p, increasing the stock market value to £185m. The Cypriot-based tour operator Libra Holidays owns just under 80 per cent while the directors and a small group of senior employees own 8 per cent. The 296 per cent increase in pre-tax profits to £13.4m for the year to the end of October reflected the fact that, in the previous year, Excel incurred one-off charges of £8.5m to buy shares for the management and cover the costs of its AIM listing.

At the operating level, profits were up by a more modest 11 per cent to £13m, although they still beat expectations comfortably.

Excel sells the vast bulk of capacity on its 18-strong fleet of aircraft to independent tour operators through its charter broking division Excel Aviation. But increasingly the airline is selling seats direct to holidaymakers through its website. Excel's Freedom Flights division sold 275,000 seats during the year - a 129 per cent increase.

Eamonn Mullaney, the chairman of Excel, said the airline had significantly increased its investment in the promotion of direct sales through the website.

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