Passengers using Southend airport rose by a third to 1.5 million last year, owner Stobart Group revealed today.

The 33% increase in passenger numbers from 1.12 million in 2017 came as the Essex airport prepares for the start of Ryanair flights.

The no-frills carrier will base three aircraft at Southend from April.

Ryanair will be followed in May with Loganair flights to Glasgow and Aberdeen.

The Scottish airline will also start serving Stobart-owned Carlisle Lake District airport in July.

Stobart Group confirmed last month that it had disposed of its regional airline and aircraft leasing businesses in return for becoming a 30% shareholder in new Flybe owner Connect Airways alongside Virgin Atlantic and Cyrus Capital.

The company said in a trading update that it recognised an unspecified profit on disposal, on an accounting basis.

Stobart Group expects to include 30% of any profit after tax of Connect Airways in its results going forward.

The majority of the group’s planned investment will be deployed at Southend airport to put in place the infrastructure required to serve up to ten million passengers a year.

“The company continues to evaluate both the quantum of the investment required and the opportunities to fund growth through the disposal of non-core assets,” Stobart said.

“To that end, Stobart Group has recently increased its available cash resources to support its growth plans through asset sales and the placement of shares on 11 January 2019 with Cyrus Capital, generating £24.7 million, following the announcement of the recommended cash offer for Flybe.”