London Southend airport is confident of handling five million passengers a year by 2023 having tapped into an unexpected source of traffic.
Glyn Jones, chief executive of the Stobart Group’s aviation arm, said the airport, which has routes to 30 destinations in 12 countries, is strongly supported by the local population.
However, with about one million passengers predicted for 2017, he is confident of further strong growth and in particular from an unexpected source.
He said staff at the airport were surprised to see the positive impact that people living and working in the centre of London, who have the choice of six airports, some of which are closer, were having on Southend’s passenger numbers.
Jones said: “Something we did not anticipate is happening: we now know that the boroughs of Westminster, Camden and Kensington and Chelsea are driving our outbound passenger numbers.
“It is because of the (London Underground’s) Central Line and we had undervalued its effect.”
He added that with those in the London area having made 160 million trips in 2016 and other nearby airports like Heathrow getting close to capacity, Southend should pick up further growth.
And with the airport aiming to double passenger numbers in 2018, it is on the way to meeting its own five million target.
Jones admitted that the airport needed to look at how it can work more closely with agents to increase passenger numbers further.
He said: “At the moment, the vast majority of [air] traffic doesn’t use trade as it is easyJet and Flybe and both of them are focused on direct sales. That said, we do need to develop an understanding of business demand and the way business needs to be served, which is through corporate travel agents.
“It is a gap for us and one we need to see how we can fix.”
Jones added that the airport is hoping to appoint a trade sales specialist but was unable to say when the role would be filled.
However, he added: “The trade can expect to hear rather more from us than they have in the past.”