EasyJet's new London airport – in Southend

Southend-on-Sea's tourist board boasts of the town's seven "glorious" miles of seafront, the world's longest pleasure pier and "so much more". But visitors from next year may have the beaches of Ibiza and the Algarve more on their mind, after easyJet said it was to fly to popular tourist destinations from its airport.

The budget airline yesterday announced its first flight from London Southend Airport, which has a history dating back to the First World War, will take off in April next year. It has signed a 10-year partnership with the airport, which is owned by the Stobart Group, and will bring with it three A319 aircraft, 150 employees and about 800,000 passengers in its first year.

The head of the airport said the move could be "transformational" for the Thames Gateway area and that the partnership had received strong support from the local community.

EasyJet said the airport could offer flights without the stress of some of the larger airports, including the nearby Stansted, adding it was the "eastern gateway" to London. Catherine Lynn, customer and revenue director at easyJet, said it would bring the benefits of a "small regional airport" to passengers.

The move was also designed to encourage passengers to ditch rivals British Airways and Ryanair, which fly the same routes it announced including Faro, Barcelona and Ibiza. It will run 70 flights a week to 10 different destinations.

The airport's only consumer routes now are to Jersey, Waterford and Galway. It also hosts corporate charters, freight, air taxis and private aircraft.

Ms Lynn said the service will offer a "convenient new departure point" for customers predominantly in London and Essex and will "attract a high number of inbound business and leisure passengers to London next year".

Alastair Welch, Southend airport's managing director, said he hoped the airport could attract two million customers a year following the deal, making it about one-tenth the size of Stansted. The announcement comes after an overhaul of the site. It opened a new control tower in March and will shortly open a train station and a new passenger terminal. It is also working on improvements to the runway.

While Southend's airport may not be well known outside of Essex, it was used as an airfield during both World Wars and was the UK's third-largest airport in the late 1960s. But it fell into decline until it was bought by the Stobart Group in 2008.

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