Passengers flying to business destinations in Europe, such as Stockholm and Copenhagen, helped Gatwick report a 5.1pc rise in traveller numbers in March despite the later timing of Easter this year.

The West Sussex airport, which is vying for a second runway, saw more than 2.7 million passengers pass through its doors last month, helping it to achieve a record year of growth in the 12 months to March 31.

Passenger numbers for the year to the end of March reached almost 35.9m, up 4.8pc, boosted in particular by scheduled flights to Europe.

Gatwick said almost 1.8m passengers travelled to Europe last month, up 6.1pc on March 2013, with much of the increase seen on routes to business destinations, such as Moscow and Istanbul.

Turkish Airlines has grown passenger numbers out of Gatwick by 45pc over the last year, the airport said, while easyJet now serves 46 of Europe’s top 50 business destinations from the West Sussex base.

Gatwick has also received a major boost from the expansion of low cost carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle, which saw passengers numbers jump 65pc in the year to March 31.

However, the airport suffered a major dip in traffic to the North Atlantic, with passenger numbers declining over the year by 12.7pc to less than 1.6m, largely due to US Airways’ decision to cease operations from Gatwick last year. North Atlantic traffic was down 21.7pc in March compared to a year earlier.

London’s second busiest airport hopes to replace some of the traffic to North America when Norwegian starts budget flights to New York, Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale in the US this summer.

Gatwick’s passenger figures increased last month compared to March 2013, despite the later timing of Easter this year. Last week rival Heathrow blamed the timing of Easter for a 2.8pc dip in traffic to 5.8m passengers last month.

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick’s chief executive, said the airport’s performance over the past year strengthens its case for a second runway.

He said: “This has been a successful and exciting year for Gatwick that has seen steady growth, the completion of spending over £1 billion on improving the passenger experience and offering new routes that satisfy the demands of business and leisure travellers.

“These successes only add to the obvious case for expansion at Gatwick. A new runway could be delivered at Gatwick more cost effectively than at Heathrow, with significantly less environmental impact. It would also provide the connections and economic benefits the UK needs much more quickly.”

Heathrow’s outgoing chief executive, Colin Matthews, on the weekend urged the Airports Commission, the body which will decide where best to build Britain’s next runway, not to treat Gatwick and Heathrow as the same .

He argued that Heathrow, a hub airport where airlines use passenger traffic to fill flights on long haul routes, is “not comparable” to Gatwick, which is a point-to-point base, where the vast majority of passengers fly direct to their final destination.

There is enough spare point-to-point capacity until 2040, Mr Matthews said, while Heathrow has been full for a decade, forcing some airlines to take their business to rival hub airports abroad.

The Airports Commission will deliver its verdict after the General Election next year.

Tags: gatwick, lgw, london
Photo Credit: A flight information board is seen at Gatwick Airport in southern England. Luke MacGregor / Reuters