Gatwick Airport
Gatwick Airport passenger numbers are at a historic highGetty

Gatwick Airport saw a record number of passengers pass through its gates last year, as its battle with Heathrow Airport to secure a new runway nears its next stage.

The airport recorded its busiest ever year with 38.7 million passengers – an increase of 7.8% – flying from there.

It said there had been a marked increase in long-haul traffic, thanks in part to Norwegian's new low-cost services to the US and passengers flying on European business routes to emerging markets.

The year included one day of 906 air traffic movements in August, the most ever for a single-runway airport.

Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick Airport, said the impressive figures buoyed Gatwick's chances of being given the green light by the Airports Commission for a second runway.

"As a recommendation draws near from the Airports Commission on where the UK's next runway should be built, our record growth has shown why Gatwick remains the best choice.

"Gatwick expansion will deliver more passengers to more destinations and provide the economic boost the UK needs at a fraction of the environmental impact of Heathrow."

The commission, which is being chaired by Sir Howard Davies, is due to report at the end of the month on which of three options is best for increasing UK aviation capacity. They are: a second runway at Gatwick; a third runway to the north-west of Heathrow; or an extended northern runway at Heathrow.

After a decision has been made, it will be left to the government to have the final say on where the runway should be built. However, with legal challenges from either side expected, a final thumbs up might not come until the new year.