SOUTHEND Airport could welcome 15 times more passengers in the future despite already claiming the title of fastest growing UK airport.

New data has shown not only were people flying to and from more countries but residents from the capital are now considering the airport as an alternative to Gatwick or Heathrow.

Glyn Jones, chief executive of Stobart Aviation, claims there is no need for another runway at Heathrow Airport, as Southend Airport has the theoretical capacity for up to 15 million passengers a year.

Business development director Bernard Lavelle added: “We’ve done some recent catchment analysis, using anonymous booking data.

“We were able to postcode match and this showed us the catchment is now moving further westwards into London, with 14 percent of our passengers actually coming from the city of London, which is a key market.”

The move from provincial airstrip to major international airport is well advanced with more than a million passengers already.

Air Malta has joined the growing list of airlines, travelling to Malta, Cagliari and Catania joining easyJet and Flybe.

Mr Lavelle believes the wider catchment is partly a result of the increasing number of routes available.

He said: “With easyJet adding a fourth aircraft this summer, and also the big expansion by Flybe, we’re now attracting passengers from elsewhere.”

Owner, Stobart Group announced pre-tax profits of £100m for the past year.

“The future for London Southend Airport is very bright,” said Mr Lavelle. “The airport capacity crunch within the London market provides us with the opportunity to talk to airlines who want access to Essex and the London market, but can’t get the landing times they need. We have the capacity to allow these airlines to grow their London operations. So my focus is on identifying these airlines and talking to them about the LSA opportunity.” 2018 is expected to be a record year for passenger numbers.