The owner of Stansted is to call on the government to lift restrictions on passenger numbers as it intensifies a campaign to expand and eventually build a second runway.

Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group, revealed that the company was planning to apply to have a so-called planning cap, which limits it to handling 35 million passengers a year, raised.

If approved, it would allow the Essex airport to grow by making full use of its single runway, and lead to between £400 million and £500 million of investment in Stansted to expand its terminal facilities so that it can handle more travellers. The move could also pave the way for a second runway.

“As we move towards the end of this calendar year we’ll be putting in an application to get that planning cap raised,” Cornish told the Daily Telegraph.

He said MAG was already starting to compile supporting materials for the application, including noise and environmental studies, and is beginning to look at how it would extend its terminal.

“We have to invest anyway to get to 35 million [passengers] and then to get to 42 million we have to invest some more,” Cornish said.

Stansted’s cap was lifted to 35 million from 25 million in 2008. However, the airport is growing quickly, with passenger numbers jumping by 10.8% to 23.2 million in the 12 months to the end of March.