Privately-owned airline Virgin Atlantic said profits nearly doubled during the year to end February, despite the high fuel prices and economic slowdown that has devastated the industry.

The company, controlled by Richard Branson's Virgin Group, said pretax profits came in at 68.4 million pounds for the period, up from 34.8 million the previous year.

The results reflect a rise in the number of premium or first and business class passengers using the airline, the group said in a statement.

The news comes in sharp contrast to dire results by rival British Airways . BA said on Friday it had made a pretax loss of 401 million pounds, and saw no encouraging signs in its outlook whatsoever.

Virgin is waging a campaign against BA's attempt to secure approval for a transatlantic profit sharing tie-up with American Airlines .

(Reporting by John Bowker, Editing by Matt Scuffham)