Ryanair to open new UK base in 2019 at Southend
Shares in UK transport energy group Stobart soared as much as 10pc yesterday as it sealed a deal with Ryanair that will see the low-cost carrier establish a base at the company's London Southend Airport.
Ryanair confirmed that it will base three aircraft at the airport, located to the east of London. From next summer, it will operate 13 routes to eight countries, with services to destinations including Dublin, Faro, Bilbao, Alicante, Corfu, Malaga and Venice.
The expansion in the UK comes despite Brexit looming and the associated challenges it may pose for airlines and airports if the UK and the European Union can't ink a new agreement to enable flights to continue between the two jurisdictions after Britain exits the trading bloc next year.
Ryanair chief commercial officer David O'Brien said the new base at Southend should not be seen as a vote of confidence in the future of UK aviation.
Nevertheless, the Ryanair deal is a significant coup for Stobart, whose aviation unit also operates the Aer Lingus Regional service on a franchise basis. Stobart also operates some franchised routes for UK carrier Flybe.
Stobart has been pushing hard to develop London Southend Airport as a viable alternative to other airports around the UK capital, including Stansted, which is Ryanair's largest base.
But it had struggled to generate the momentum required to make Southend a real contender.
Southend handled 1.09 million passengers last year, and 874,000 in 2016.
Last year, Stobart, whose CEO is former EasyJet executive Warwick Brady, said it hoped to handle 2.5 million passengers at Southend in 2018.
Ryanair said that its new services from Southend will add an expected one million passengers a year at the airport.
"We have a clear and focused strategy to grow our airport to welcome over five million passengers a year by 2022," said Mr Brady.
"Since joining Stobart Group over 12 months ago I have been working closely alongside the team at London Southend Airport to secure a major airline that will allow us to deliver on our growth targets.
"This agreement demonstrates that we now have the right team, skill set and strategy in place to deliver on our stated ambitions."
Stobart Group has been rocked by a boardroom battle in recent weeks.