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Growing passenger numbers and more charter flights has helped Regional Express Group’s first half profit soar more than 40 per cent to $9.1 million.

Executive chairman Lim Kim Hai said passenger numbers in the six months to December 31 were up 3.6 per cent from the same period a year ago to 634,103, and growth is expected to continue in the second half.

“Charter activity also increased, indicating that the worldwide economic recovery is having its effect in Australia,” he said on Wednesday.

The regional operator said it is now on course to lift full-year pre-tax profit by a fifth and declared its first interim dividend since floating on the ASX in 2005, paying out a fully franked four cents.

It indicated its total full-year payout should at least match the 10 cents per share in 2016/17.

Investors welcomed the news, lifting the company’s share price 4.5 cents, or 2.75 per cent, to $1.68 by 1444 AEDT.

Regional Express began operating services from Port Augusta in South Australia to Adelaide and Coober Pedy in September, helping drive passenger revenue 4.2 per cent higher to $133.3 million.

The average fare was 2.2 per cent higher at $214.60.

Mr Lim said first-half pre-tax profit rose 60 per cent and that he expects full-year pre-tax profit to be 20 per cent higher than last year’s $17.8 million.

REX’S H1 PROFIT SOARS

* Net profit up 46.8pct to $9.1m

* Revenue up 4.6pct to $151m

* Interim dividend of four cents, fully franked