London Stansted airport, best known as Europe’s biggest discount hub, joined the major leagues with a first flight by Mideast giant Emirates and said it aims to add 30 more long-haul routes within five years.

A catchment area that includes Cambridge, England — the focus for Britain’s technology and pharmaceutical sectors — as well as London’s City and Canary Wharf financial districts, should help the airport deliver on those ambitions, Ken O’Toole, the airport’s chief executive officer, said in an interview Friday.

The arrival of the Emirates Boeing Co. 777-300ER jetliner from Dubai, which was greeted with a ceremonial “water salute” from Stansted’s fire trucks, should kick off a new phase of growth for the terminal 35 miles (55 kilometers) north of London, according to O’Toole.

While the airport does have seven other long-haul routes, those are all trans-Atlantic and flown by low-cost carriers or tour operators. Service by the Persian Gulf carrier will not only open up connections across the whole of Asia, but marks a move into full-service operations including luxury first-class cabins — a far cry from the no-frills pitch of Ryanair Holdings Plc, Stansted’s biggest customer.

“We have a team that spends most of its time around the world that will be working to add more routes like this,” said O’Toole, who previously ran Stansted’s sister airport, Manchester, where he helped build up long-haul destinations to a level surpassed only by London Heathrow in the U.K.

China Push

One target is China, with Stansted last month establishing the East of England-China Forum to help build the business case for flights.

It’s realistic to think Stansted could add 25 to 30 more long-haul routes in three-to-five years, he added. The airport attracted close to 26 million passengers in the 12 months through March and has submitted an application to raise a capacity cap to 43 million travelers from 35 million. It’s also spending 600 million pounds ($804 million) on new terminal facilities after adding perks such as valet parking, fast-track security and airport lounges.

Stansted will now be served by 22 airlines, compared with eight when it was purchased by Manchester Airports Group for 1.5 billion pounds in 2013. With Heathrow awaiting a new runway and London Gatwick close to full, O’Toole said as much as half of new capacity serving the U.K. capital may come from Stansted over the next decade.

Emirates, the world’s largest long-haul airline, will serve Stansted daily, and O’Toole said he’s hopeful it might ultimately add more flights. The carrier currently operates to Manchester three times a day, entirely with Airbus SE A380 superjumbos, the world’s biggest passenger planes.

The Gulf carrier, which serves seven other U.K. airports, deployed a 777 fitted with a new interior on the Stansted flight, including first-class suites with floor-to-ceiling sliding doors to make them fully enclosed.

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Photo Credit: Emirates is the first full service long-haul carrier to serve London Stansted. It uses the Boeing 777-300ER, the aircraft pictured here. Emirates