Heathrow today claimed a record start to the year by beating the ‘Beast from the East’ winter storm with passenger numbers up by 3.1% to 17.7 million in the three months to March 31.

Investment in winter resilience kept the London hub open during one of the worst winters in recent years while delivering lower operating costs per passenger.

Pre-tax profits rose by 22% to £33 million in the quarter over the same period last year.

Lower operating costs per passenger and higher retail spending resulted in revenue growth of 3.8% to £680 million.

Long-haul travel was the key geographic driver of traffic growth increasing 3.5%, with notable growth on routes serving Mumbai, Tokyo and Guangzhou.

Middle Eastern traffic remained healthy, in particular on routes to Saudi Arabia and Israel.

European traffic saw notable growth on routes to Madrid, Barcelona and Istanbul.

Domestic traffic continued to perform well, reflecting the benefits of Heathrow’s discount on domestic flights and additional services by Flybe to Scotland.

The Heathrow Express rail service was confirmed to at least 2028 under a new agreement that will contribute to delivering an integrated transport hub at Heathrow.

It will also help ensure that at least half of all air passengers travel by public transport by 2030.

An agreement approved by the Department for Transport will see Heathrow Express retaining the commercial aspects including marketing, ticket pricing and revenue, while FirstGroup’s Great Western Railway subsidiary will manage the day-to-day operations of the Heathrow Express service under a management contract from later this year.

Heathrow called for the public to submit ideas on how to further improve the third runway project as the airport begins to design its preferred expansion masterplan,

The move followed the backing of the north-west runway by the Transport Select Committee and thousands of people participating in Heathrow’s first planning consultation.

Parliament is expected to vote on expanding Heathrow this summer, with the latest polling showing 75% of MPs backing the scheme.

Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “We’re delighted that passengers are choosing Heathrow in record numbers – it’s is a strong signal that we’re delivering value for money.

“We’re within touching distance of Parliament voting on expanding Heathrow and now more than ever we’re committed to developing and delivering a hub airport that Britain can be proud of for generations to come.”