FLYBE celebrated its first profits in four years today after the regional airline boosted passenger numbers and benefited from a turnaround drive.

The business, which serves Southampton Airport along with 34 others in the UK, reduced its number of bases from 13 to seven in the last year, posting bottom-line profits of £8.1 million in the year to March 31.

Chief executive Saad Hammad said the figures marked the ''rebirth of Flybe'' after a restructuring that has seen 1,100 jobs cut and a 1.4 per cent reduction in capacity as it moves to shed loss-making routes.

It carried a record 7.7 million passengers on its UK scheduled services in the period, a rise of 6.9 per cent as it benefited from fare promotions and better routes.

The airline recently announced five new routes from London City airport and a complete relaunch of the Flybe brand but some further job losses are still likely after this summer as seasonal routes are discontinued and aircraft grounded.

However, the airline added: ''We believe that we are now on the verge of emerging from this period of retrenchment, and looking forward to future considered and careful profitable growth.''

The group also has regional bases in Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow and Manchester.

It also has a white label business with Finland's Finnair, where it flies planes under the Finnish airline's livery and which posted a profit before tax of £6.3 million, compared with £4.6 million a year ago.

The group said it is in discussions with other major carriers about expanding its white label joint ventures.