The boss of Luton airport has hailed 2017 as a record breaking year as passenger numbers rose by 8.6% to 15.7 million.

Further growth is projected this year with the airport celebrating its 80th anniversary and marking crucial milestones in an ongoing transformation plan.

This includes the official opening of an extended terminal building with more shops and restaurants, as well as a boarding pier with eight new boarding gates.

A number of new routes are due to be introduced this year.

Wizz Air is introducing eight new destinations, including Athens, Larnaca, Keflavik in Iceland and the Italian city of Bari.

EasyJet is adding five new routes including to Genoa and Reus.

This follows the addition of 22 new routes last year, meaning that passengers can now choose from more than 140 destinations across Europe, Asia and Africa.

Passenger demand for air travel in the South East continues to soar. To help meet this demand LLA

Luton airport is spending £150 million to increase its annual capacity by 50% by 2020 to meet soaring demand for air travel in the south-east.

But improved rail links to the airport are vital in order to provide this additional capacity, according to the airport.

It is calling for four fast trains per hour to stop at Luton airport Parkway station as part of the new East Midlands rail franchise.

Airport CEO Nick Barton said: “2017 has been another record breaker and we look forward to welcoming even more passengers as we enter our 80th year.

“Throughout 2018, passengers will see the airport transformed as we officially open our new terminal and reach the first phase of construction for the mass passenger transit system which will replace the current shuttle bus and create a rapid link between the train station and the terminal.

“However, this is only part of the solution to better public transport links and is why we continue to call on the government for four fast trains per hour between central London and Luton Airport Parkway.”