EasyJet is aiming to capitalise on Southend’s close proximity to London (around 50 minutes by train to London Liverpool Street), and flights will start operating just a couple of months before the Olympic Games begin. To help boost Olympic passenger traffic, the airport is also opening a new railway station with up to eight services an hour to Stratford – site of the 2012 games. Not having to negotiate the transport nightmare that central London promises to be next summer should certainly appeal to visitors, and compared to the other London airports journey times to Southend should be shorter, too, as flights avoid the congested London flight path. The fact that it’s a smaller airport also means security and immigration checks will be quicker. What’s not to like? Catherine Lynn, easyJet's customer and revenue director said the airline expects to fly more people into London next summer than any other airline.
The low-cost airline said there will be three aircraft and 70 easyJet flights a week, carrying around 800,000 passengers in the first year to and from European destinations including Barcelona and Ibiza. EasyJet has signed a 10-year agreement with Stobart Group, the owners of the airport since late 2008, and will start with 150 staff there.
This eastward expansion by easyJet might be surprising to some, as the airline has seen its losses almost double this year because of rising oil prices and aviation taxes. The tough economic climate has also led to a slump in business travel. But the airline has been on an expansion drive over the past couple of years as it fought for a bigger share in continental Europe. Closer to home, it added to its fleet at Manchester and Edinburgh airports earlier this year ,and the new base in Southend means easyJet will soon operate from 11 places in the UK.
Southend airport has also been on a regeneration drive since the Stobart Group bought the site in December 2008. As well as the new £12m airport railway station, there are plans for a £10million, 129-bedroom hotel at the airport; and the control tower has also been rebuilt. But the airport has a long way to go if it’s to return to the ‘golden era’ of the late early 1960s and 1970s, when it operated as London’s third largest airport. In its heyday it even featured in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger (Aston Martin driving bond Bond follows 24 carat-gold baddie Auric Goldfinger’s Rolls-Royce to Switzerland, courtesy of Southend’s long-defunct British United Air Ferries service). Nevertheless, the Olympics should help get efforts to recapture the airport’s glory days off to a flying start...