GATWICK airport is set to lose more than half-a-million passengers this financial year because of the collapse of Thomas Cook.

The UK’s second-biggest airport held a significant number of the airline’s take-off and landing slots before it folded in September, sparking the repatriation of 150,000 Brits who were left stranded abroad.

Thomas Cook’s collapse stripped Gatwick of 50,000 passengers in the final week of September alone, it said, with 254 commercial flights from the airport cancelled in the immediate aftermath.

Low cost carriers Easyjet and Jet2 snapped up about two-thirds of the slots earlier this month, while the remainder are likely to be allocated in the coming weeks.

Chief executive Stewart Wingate told City A.M.: “We can see from the activity that there’s plenty of other airlines who are looking for slots at Gatwick.

“We’re seeing a lot of demand, particularly for long haul carriers looking to access London.”

Gatwick is on course to carry between 46m and 47m passengers this year, a slight increase on last year’s figure of 46m. In the first six months of the financial year, up until the end of September, it carried 26.6m people, a 0.2 per cent increase on the same period in 2018.

Around one-in-five of those people are now travelling to long-haul destinations, the airport said, after launching new routes to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Buenos Aires in Argentina this year.

Wingate said opening up to the South American market would “play a crucial role in the country’s economy and national identity” as the UK enters a new chapter after leaving the EU.

Nevertheless, the airport said in its results document that it had seen “some softening in UK outbound passenger demand,” because of uncertainty over the terms of that exit.

It added that the aviation sector had also suffered “several other challenges” this year, such as poor weather, the grounding of the mid-range Boeing 737 Max aircraft, engine issues across the long-haul Boeing 787 plane and delays on deliveries of Airbus jets.