• Earnings from U.S. partnership increased 55% last year
  • Oil-price drop contributed to 196 million-pound cost decline

Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. almost doubled earnings last year after expanding its pact with 49 percent shareholder Delta Air Lines Inc., hosting more people on holiday packages and benefiting from the drop in oil prices.

Pretax profit excluding exceptional items surged to 22.5 million pounds ($32 million) from a restated 12.4 million pounds in 2014, helped by a 196 million-pound reduction in operating costs attributed to lower fuel expenses, Virgin said in a statement Wednesday.

Profit from the partnership with Atlanta-based Delta jumped 55 percent in the 12 months, with 400,000 customers connecting between the airlines, while tour-brand Virgin Holidays contributed 10 million pounds to earnings.

Virgin returned to profit in 2014 after Delta’s stake purchase a year earlier refocused the company on trans-Atlantic markets after years of global expansion. The airline has scrapped flights to cities including Tokyo and Mumbai, while adding daily trips between London Heathrow and Detroit and extra San Francisco, New York and Miami services.

Earnings Target

Chief Executive Officer Craig Kreeger said in the release that the airline is on track to post its highest profit ever by 2018, beating the 99 million pounds earned in 1999.

Kreeger has sought to restore billionaire Branson’s best-known brand to profit without hurting its reputation for flashy service, investing 300 million pounds in measures including the upgrade of Virgin’s Airbus Group SE A330-300 fleet.

Revenue at the carrier, which competes with British Airways at Heathrow, reached 2.78 billion pounds, with 5.94 million passengers carried.

Virgin Atlantic missed out on 198 million pounds of additional fuel savings due to it’s hedging strategy, Chief Financial Officer Shai Weiss said in statement, while adding that those positions “will continue to unwind and give us significant savings in 2016.”

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