London Luton Airport has started work on its Direct Air-Rail Transit (DART) transport system, a £225m double-shuttle fully automated people mover which will operate 24 hours a day.

The airport awarded contracts in December to a VolkerFitzpatrick-Kier joint venture and Doppelmayr Cable Car UK, and the works are expected to be completed by spring 2021.

“The Council is proud to be at the forefront of creating a brighter future for Luton, and this is another exciting landmark moment in the ongoing transformation of our town under the £1.5b Luton Investment Framework,” said Luton council leader Hazel Simmons.

“The Luton DART will benefit not only airport passengers but also the people and businesses of Luton in that it supports our ambitions to secure long-term economic growth and ensure local people have access to high-quality employment opportunities.”

The project will include the construction of a 2.1km rail link from two purpose-built stations at Bartlett Square at Luton Airport Parkway to the airport terminal, and provide a shuttle every four minutes. This will reduce journey times to less than four minutes, enabling access to the terminal from central London within 30 minutes.

Luton and Central Bedfordshire councils have given the project full planning permission, which will create 500 construction jobs, 30 apprenticeships and 17 permanent positions over the next three years.

“Luton Airport has come a long way from the grass airstrip that opened 80 years ago. It is experiencing unparalleled success, with a 50 per cent increase in passenger numbers since 2014,” said Luton councillor Andy Malcolm.

“The Luton DART will support ongoing growth to 18 million passengers per year by 2021, and make sure the passenger experience we provide is significantly enhanced.”

The airport reported an increase in passengers of 6.3% in the 12 months to February 2018 compared to the previous 12 months, from 14.8 million passengers to 15.8 million. The DART line will ease the burden on existing transport systems at Luton, which has become the UK’s fifth-busiest airport, and the fourth-busiest in London.