The head of Norwegian Air Shuttle has come out firmly in favour of a new runway at Gatwick and pledged to base 50 Boeing 787s at the airport if it wins out over Heathrow.

Bjorn Kjos, Norwegian chief executive, said: “I am happy to commit that Norwegian will locate more than 50 new Dreamliner aircraft at Gatwick once a second runway is built.”

Speaking at the Aviation Club in London yesterday, Kjos said: “I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that I strongly back Gatwick as the right choice for the new runway

He insisted: “This isn’t just for selfish commercial reasons. In my view Gatwick is the only choice that will actually deliver what the whole industry needs.”

But Kjos said: “A Gatwick second runway would allow us to be even more ambitious in our plans for long-haul growth in the UK.

“To put it into context, we only have nine Dreamliners in our entire global operation today, so locating more than 50 at Gatwick would be a dramatic increase.

“It would help us create a truly global low-cost network.”

He also pledged that Norwegian would base an additional two short-haul aircraft at Gatwick for every 787, arguing: “It is equally important to increase our short-haul network to help feed long-haul growth.

“So if Gatwick expands, for each of the 50 new Dreamliners we would also locate two new short-haul aircraft – another 100 short-haul aircraft at Gatwick in total.

“That would mean doubling our entire global fleet of short-haul aircraft solely at Gatwick.”

Kjos said: “These may sound like big numbers, but they reflect the huge opportunities we are presented with. So Gatwick has my full support.”

Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate hailed Kjos’s comments as “by far the most significant and positive intervention by an airline in the expansion debate to date”.

Kjos also spoke out in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union, saying: “My view is the UK is better staying in the EU.

“The EU brings many advantages to passengers throughout Europe – freedom of movement, lower fares, and strong consumer rights. These are important issues that the UK should not take for granted.”

But he added: “London and the UK will be one of the world’s most popular leisure destinations regardless of its standing in the European community. If the UK does exit the EU, we will continue to create new routes, new aircraft and new jobs here in the UK.”