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ATHENS, March 23 (Reuters) - Greece's largest airline Aegean reported a 53 percent drop in 2016 net profit on Thursday, as a weak second quarter and higher value-added tax (VAT) outweighed a rise in sales beyond the one billion euro mark.
Aegean Airlines said it made net earnings of 32.2 million euros ($34.8 million) last year, down from 68.4 million in 2015. Group sales grew 4 percent to 1.02 billion euros.
The company, a member of the Star Alliance airline group, said passenger numbers grew 7 percent in 2016 to 12.5 million, with its load factor - a measure of how full its planes are - improving by 0.6 percentage points to 77.4 percent.
"A particularly weak second quarter and the increase of VAT tax by 11 (percentage) points had a negative impact on full-year results," Chief Executive Dimitris Gerogiannis said in a statement.
"Adjustments to our network in the last quarter led to significantly higher load factors, especially on flights abroad, and the trend is continuing in early 2017," he said.
Aegean, which flies a young fleet of 61 aircraft, mostly Airbus A320 jets, said its board would propose a dividend per share of 0.4 euros, down from 0.7 euros on 2015 results.
$1 = 0.9264 euros Reporting by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Mark Potter