The rise and fall of Southend Airport

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

A few years ago Southend airport was largely ignored.

Will easyJet take off from Southend Airport again?

Just eight years ago, easyJet began services from the airport. On Monday last week it announced that all services would cease at the end of the month to all of its 21 destinations and that it would close its Southend base.

At least Ryanair is still operating from Southend and may use the opportunity to expand. Or cut back as it has announced a 20% reduction in flights this coming Autumn.

The rise of the airport after many lean years was sparked by Stobart which obviously had ambitions to move into airports and airline services probably seeing it as a freight terminal which would complement its road haulage side.

Stobart faced internal issues at a time when it probably should have been more focussed. A service linking two of its airports – Carlisle and Southend – lasted only a short time. First Southend faced the collapse of Flybe and then coronavirus.

Passenger numbers in 2019 were just over two million in 2019 up by over a third and the airport was the fastest growing in the UK substantially helped by easyJet basing a number of planes there and flying a million people a year into and out of the airport. Nine years ago the airport saw just 42,000 people but then the Stobart effect took place. They invested in better road and rail connectivity and developed the airport. Unlike many projects the infrastructure was in place and then they went out and cut deals to forge the growth in passenger numbers.

If that suggests I have sympathy with the airport its true.

It did what I believe is the right way for airport development but now it has to plan for services which might carry a quarter of what it carried last year.

Firstly it has to face up to the fact that many people might be reluctant to fly and if they do gain confidence would they prefer nearby Stansted? Secondly if they do gain that confidence how many will fly or have we seen the golden age of flight? Thirdly when will airlines feel confident about expanding again? 2022? 2023? Later? And if they do, will they return to Southend? And finally will climate change and green ideas of travel persuade people to use other forms of transport instead of planes?

That’s quite a lot for the owners and managers at Southend to ponder. As will other owners be doing at smaller airports where larger competition is nearby.

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