RYANAIR’S decision to quit its base at Southend Airport was an unexpected move and it was anticipated that the low-cost carrier would remain in the future.

Airport operator, Esken, revealed yesterday that Ryanair intends to close its base at London Southend Airport with effect from the start of the winter season this year.

This was caused by "Ryanair’s performance at London Southend Airport, which has been further affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and has now resulted in this decision".

It comes after fellow low-cost airline easyJet quit its base at Southend Airport last year.

Echo: Positive future? Southend AirportPositive future? Southend Airport

The announcement of Ryanair's departure from Southend came shortly after Ryanair announced a new base opening in Newcastle for Summer 2022, with two based aircraft, 63 departing flights per week and 19 routes in total, including 12 new connections to a host of international destinations across Europe from March 2022. 

Where does all this leave Southend Airport?

In their annual report released last month, bosses acknowledged this year will be challenging but they remain confident in the future.

They say the airport’s position - serving short-haul, leisure travel demand in London and the South East - places it well to return to strong growth in the medium term, as the impact of the pandemic recede and consumer confidence in international travel returns.

In its annual report for 20202-21, Southend Airport bosses said: “Passenger growth recovery is likely to gain pace in 2022 as short haul leisure (for holidays and visiting friends and relatives) will be the first markets to see regrowth back to 2019 levels versus other types of passenger demand.”

The annual report, released on July 19, 2021, said Norwegian carrier Wideroe briefly commenced services to Bergen but this ceased due to the travel bans in both directions. The report adds: “The carrier expects to return to the airport in the near future.”

Pandemic recovery

The pandemic has taken its toll on the aviation industry but the future could be bright and there is confidence in a return to growth.

In its annual report for 2020/2021, the airport said: “The current context is extremely challenging but there are reasons to be confident that the longer term future for London Southend Airport is positive. We are a short haul airport and short haul traffic will return more quickly than long haul.

“In common with most UK airports, we are predominantly a leisure airport and leisure will return faster than business travel, as people have become more accustomed to digital communications. And whilst we are proud to serve our local community, more than 60 per cent of our passengers originate in London, which is historically a highly resilient market. So we anticipate a return to growth in the not too distant future.

The report adds: “Passenger growth recovery is likely to gain pace in 2022 as short haul leisure (for holidays and visiting friends and relatives) will be the first markets to see regrowth back to 2019 levels versus other types of passenger demand.”

The environment in which Southend Airport operates could also likely to be an opportunity for the future.

On its website, airport operator Esken says: “The travel sectors in which London Southend Airport operates are those expected to return to 2019 levels the fastest; short-haul, leisure and visiting friends and relatives. Only 12 per cent of London Southend Airport’s travel was business related in 2019. Although this percentage will grow in the longer term, in the short term it is an advantage not to be reliant on business travel.”

In 2019, London remained the largest air travel market in the world, Esken added on its website.

Esken’s website adds: “The London market has shown resilience to previous falls in global demand, with quick recovery and a growth trajectory which is above UK GDP.

"London will again become a constrained market as demand begins to recover from 2022.

"Low-cost airlines are expected to be at the forefront of this, and these airlines will all be aiming for market share growth. This will require slot growth across the London airports.”

Movements at other airports are also an opportunity because it is likely that, from 2022, there may be a reduction in “slot capacity” and airlines “will need to relocate if they are to continue longer-term operations”.

Esken adds: "There have been slot transactions by easyJet at Stansted, selling based aircraft slots to Ryanair, and by Norwegian selling slots at Gatwick to easyJet. This again leads to a position of very little slot availability across the London airport system as there is unlikely to be any growth in airport slot or passenger capacity in the near future.

“This puts London Southend Airport in a strong position in the coming years, with low-cost airlines and network carriers relocating traffic, and likely to be seeking available runway slots at the right price and the right service levels to aid their recovery.”

Esken acknowledges the rate of growth is still undetermined because of recovery from the pandemic.

It adds: "However, with short-haul and low-cost airlines at the forefront of the recovery, there is a good opportunity for the airport to recover faster than some of its counterparts focused on network carriers and long-haul traffic.

"The rail connectivity direct to London Liverpool Street will continue to be a huge advantage to the airport and will play an important part in the attractiveness to both airlines and customers."