Low-cost airline easyJet posted a 31.5 percent rise in full-year profit, helped by costs cuts and an increase in the number of corporate passengers, and said it would return 195 million pounds to shareholders.

The Luton, southern England-based carrier on Tuesday reported an underlying pretax profit of 248 million pounds on revenues 16 percent higher at 3.45 billion pounds.

It said it would pay a one-off special dividend of 34.9 pence per share and an ordinary dividend of 10.5 pence per share, making a total payout of 195 million pounds.

The company said the macro-economic environment remained challenging for all airlines as weak consumer confidence across Europe slows the rate at which higher fuel prices and increased taxation can be passed onto passengers.

Against this backdrop easyJet is taking a cautious approach to capacity deployment, easyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall said. As a result, capacity in the first half of the year is planned to be flat, with growth of around 4 percent for the full year.

The company had been expected to report an annual pretax profit of between 206 million pounds and 254 million pounds, with the average at 243 million pounds, according to a poll of 25 analysts by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

EasyJet said around 45 percent of its winter seats had already been sold, in line with the prior year, and that first half passenger revenues were expected to grow by mid-single digits.

The airline's fuel costs rose to 917 million pounds during the year, up from 733 million a year earlier.

It said its underlying costs per seat fell by 1.3 percent for the full year, helped by a strong cost performance in ground handling and maintenance.

Passenger numbers rose 11.8 percent to 54.5 million during the year, while its load factor improved by 0.3 percentage points to 87.3 percent, said the airline.

Shares in easyJet, which have fallen 7.5 percent in the last three months, closed at 366 pence on Monday, valuing the company at around 1.5 billion pounds.

(Reporting by Rhys Jones; Editing by Adveith Nair)