Regional airline Flybe today said it will continue its expansion into continental Europe after becoming one of only three major European airlines to report profits throughout the recession.
The privately-owned carrier, which operates more than 20 routes from Birmingham, said it is looking at potential acquisitions of regional airlines in Europe after weathering the economic storm.
But the airline said it would maintain its regional ethos, with flight times continuing to average less than an hour, on board planes with just 85 seats.
Flybe, which is also in flight share discussions with Scandinavian airline Finnair, said it had put in an order to purchase up to 140 new aircraft, which would replace some of its current 68-strong fleet.
The Exeter-based carrier posted pre-tax profits before exceptionals of £6.8 million in the year to March 31, down from £12.8 million the previous financial year, after a marginal decline in turnover to £570.5 million from £572.4 million.
Flybe flew 7.2 million passengers in the financial year, slightly down on 7.3 million the year before, and is now the biggest carrier of UK domestic passengers. It flies a total of 207 routes in 13 countries.
Jim French, Flybe chief executive, said: "If you're making a profit during the recession, then that's the time to expand your business."
Mr French said Flybe had a team "looking at acquisitions in Europe" but would not specify in which countries the airline was considering.
Mr French went on: "What we will do in Europe is regional, we will go into a regional market. We have no desire to be another BA, easyJet or BMI."
The company has been operating Olympic Air flights in Greece, providing aircraft, cabin crew and engineering support to the carrier.
The Air France deal, signed in July, will give Flybe passengers access to five additional routes between the UK and France, and will give Air France passengers access to 45 France to UK routes.
The airline said it was able to offset a slight decline in business passengers earlier in the financial year with good ancillary sales - post-ticket services such as seat allocation and on-flight refreshments - which were up 16% to £11.98 per passenger.
And Flybe overcame continued high fuel costs by operating energy efficient, smaller aircraft. Fuel costs were subsequently around 17% of the airline's total costs in the financial year, which it said was lower than the market average.
The airline added that trading for the first five months of the current financial year had been "strong" with revenues and pre-tax profits ahead of the same period last year - before the impact of the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud, which cost the company an estimated £12 million.
The firm said it is now the largest scheduled airline by traffic movements, at Belfast City, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, Inverness, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Manchester, Manston, Norwich, Southampton and Southend airports.
The airline's £11.9 million training academy business will open this year in Exeter.