Stobart Group pledged to continue investing in Southend airport to deliver a target of handling five million passengers a year by 2023.

The commitment was made despite the aviation and energy business reporting 19% deeper losses to £20.9 million in the half year to August 31.

The company aims to lift profit per passenger at the Essex airport from £3.55 to £8 in the year to February 2023.

The number of passengers using Southend airport increased by 41.8% to 1.2 million year-on-year in the period, with 2.3 million expected for 12 months to February 2020.

The interim results were issued before Loganair announced the withdrawal of Southend-Glasgow flights from January.

However, Flybe/Virgin Connect’s plans to serve ten destinations from a new base at Southend next summer is expected to contribute about 500,000 passengers a year with two aircraft based at the airport.

Stobart has £80 million of unspecified “non-strategic infrastructure assets” it intends to dispose of “at the right time and in such a way that optimises the value to the group”.

CEO Warwick Brady said: “In London Southend airport and Stobart Energy, the group has two businesses with immediate and considerable growth opportunities.

“London Southend airport continues to attract new airlines and is on course to deliver our target of five million annual passengers at £8 ebitda by February 2023. At the same time, Stobart Energy is now set to become increasingly cash generative.

“Both of these exciting growth businesses require further investment in order to deliver their full potential.”

He added: “The board has undertaken an extensive review of the capital required to fund this growth and taken the decision to suspend the dividend in order to maximise the capital available for the further development of these growth businesses.

“We are confident that, with the planned strategic investment, we will deliver superior future returns.”