Heathrow is claiming 2018 as a “milestone” year with passenger numbers climbing 2.7% to more than 80 million.

The airport will release detailed plans for its preferred third runway expansion masterplan in further consultation in June.

It remains on track to submit a planning application next year and for the first flights to use the new runway in 2026.

The London hub’s record 2018 throughput follows eight years of consecutive growth.

A doubling in Chinese connections with six new cities added was cited as helping push up numbers.

Heathrow’s domestic connections are set to grow to nine routes with the start of a new service to Newquay in April.

Following the re-launch of the Inverness flights, the UK’s two furthest mainland airports will now be connected to the airport.

The airport saw revenues rise 3% to almost £3 billion over 2017 on the back of strong retail spend and increased demand. Adjusted earnings [ebitda] grew by 4.4% to £1.8 billion with pre-tax profit up 23% to £267 million.

“Remaining competitive in the lead-up to expansion remains a priority, with a focus on efficiency resulting in operating costs per passenger falling 2% to £14.14,” Heathrow said.

CEO John Holland-Kaye added:“2018 was the best ever year at Heathrow. We were voted best airport in western Europe by passengers, while continuing to drive down costs. We improved safety and closed our gender pay gap.

“We were named ‘Responsible Business of the Year’ and won an overwhelming parliamentary majority in support of Heathrow expansion. We remain on track to open the new runway in 2026.

“I am very proud of the outstanding work of 76,000 colleagues across the airport, who are delivering for Britain.”