THE man who helped transform Southend Airport and brought in record numbers of passengers has announced he is stepping down.

In a surprise announcement yesterday, managing director Alastair Welch, who has led the airport since before the Stobart Group bought it for £21million in 2008, said he would leave at the end of this month.

Paying tribute to Mr Welch after the announcement, Stobart Group boss, Andrew Tinkler, saida team hadbeen put in place to ensure the smooth running of the airport and its continued success.

He said: “The transformation of the airport has been led by Alastair Welch, who has been supported by a dedicated, hard-working team.

“Alastair has decided that, with the redevelopment of the airport all-but complete, the time is now right for him to move on to new challenges.

“The business has been working closely with Alastair during the course of the last year to establish a senior management team that will take London Southend Airport forward, building on the successful platform established by Alastair and the team.

Alastair will be continuing the handover process until the end of July.

“I would like to thank Alastair for the contribution he has made to the development of London Southend Airport and wish him every success for the future.”

Mr Welch, who joined the airport in 2007, has overseen installation of a new control tower, railway station, runway extension and terminal and welcomed the one millionth passenger.

The airport has just enjoyed its busiest year, with 721,661 using the airport – 30,000 more than the previous record of 692,000 in its 1967 heyday.

Roger Clements, who has been working for Stobart Air for some time, will take over as managing director in August, with David Lister as airport operations director and Graham Moorhouse as chief financial officer.

Mr Tinkler said: “Roger has in recent months been working with Alastair to achieve a seamless transition, ensuring we provide the same standard of service.”

Mr Welch was unavailable for comment. No one would comment on his next move.