Welcome to the much improved London Southend Airport, where upgrades over just the past year have launched the quiet airfield squarely into the competitive ranks of airports serving the greater London area.
Located a less than one-hour train ride east of London, the airport has an illustrious past, having served as a military airfield in both World Wars. Until the late 1970s it was the third busiest airport in the UK, when it was overtaken by London Stansted Airport and thereafter drifted into something of an aviation afterthought. Then in 2008, multi-modal logistics juggernaut Stobart Group acquired the property and launched a $158 million upgrade program.
Already in operation is an extension of Runway 24/06 to 6,000 feet, with improved approach and runway lighting and ILS approaches at both ends. The construction also included an expansion of aircraft parking. Also new and operational is an ATC tower and, more recently, a new station on the rail line connecting London and the town of Southend-on-Sea. The stop is immediately adjacent to the airport and 53 minutes from London Liverpool Street Station. Built with approximately $25 million in private investment funds, it is operated under license by the airport. There is a covered walkway between the railway station and terminal, and a new car park is open.
On March 6 the airport celebrated the opening of a new terminal. Still in the planning stage are additional aircraft maintenance and storage hangars. Scheduled to open this spring is a 129-room, four-star Holiday Inn. A three-minute walk from the terminal, the hotel was built by and is owned by London Southend.
The airport also owns and operates an FBO, which it plans to renovate in time for the opening of the Olympic Games in London this summer. According to Jonathan Rayner, head of business development for the airport, London Southend expects to request bids for an established FBO operator to take over the job. “We expect to have a well known global FBO brand partner established in time for the Olympics.” He also noted that London Southend is an official port-of-entry with border agency staff available 24/7.
By the time the Olympic Games open on July 27, London Southend “will be fully operational,” including initial airline service by easyJet. “We anticipate a significant upturn in aircraft movements at that time and we expect to be ready in every respect,” said Rayner.