A RESCUE deal has been agreed for Southend Airport which could pave the way for new airlines and passenger numbers soaring to six million a year.

Airport bosses have announced the American private equity giant Carlyle is set to take control of the airport after agreeing on a deal to settle a debt with its current owner.

Carlyle, which also owns part of JFK airport in New York, will now own 82.5 per cent of the airport.

As part of the deal, £32million of new funding will be released in a bid to “secure the airport’s future growth”. 

Echo: Specialist - aviation lecturer Damian Devlin from the University of East LondonSpecialist - aviation lecturer Damian Devlin from the University of East London (Image: Damian Devlin)


'Aiming for growth'

More than 146,000 passengers flew from Southend last year, down from two million before the coronavirus pandemic when the airport was at its peak. 

Damian Devlin, an aviation lecturer at the University of East London, says Carlyle may be looking to grow the number of passengers passing through the airport.

He said: “As an investment company that seeks to create value, it presumably believes there is the opportunity to achieve the six million passenger per annum the airport is capable of handling.”


Echo: Teacher - Kathryn Hayat, head of tourism and hospitality at University College BirminghamTeacher - Kathryn Hayat, head of tourism and hospitality at University College Birmingham (Image: University College Birmingham)


Kathryn Hayat, head of tourism and hospitality at University College Birmingham, says it seems like “Carlyle is aiming for growth and new markets” with its recent experience of terminal development at JFK.

“With capacity issues at other London airports this could be an opportunity for Southend,” she said.

Industry expert Rob Burgess, editor of frequent flyer website Head For Points, says Southend is “an impressive airport” offering “everything a carrier needs”.

“I have never understood why it hasn’t worked, except for Stansted being close,” he said.

“The issue for the airport is that low-cost carriers have no real airport loyalty. They will move a few aircraft in and, if it doesn’t work quickly, shift them elsewhere in Europe. Look how Doncaster Sheffield collapsed when Wizz Air pulled out.”

Doncaster Sheffield Airport in South Yorkshire closed in November 2022, five months after Wizz Air closed its base there.


Echo: Expert - Rob Burgess, editor of frequent flyer website Head for PointsExpert - Rob Burgess, editor of frequent flyer website Head for Points (Image: Rob Burgess/Head for Points)


The budget airline started operating flights to Lithuania and Romania from Southend in 2019 but halted its flights when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

In 2022, the airline scrapped its plans to run summer flights to holiday destinations like Malaga and Sicily.

The move followed Ryanair’s decision to close its base at Southend the year before, while easyJet, which now operates some flights from Southend, also closed its base at the airport when lockdown hit.

With low-cost airlines completing deals on “razor-thin margins”, an emphasis on marketing may be needed to entice passengers and carriers, Mr Burgess explains.

“Getting Wizz or someone to base three or four aircraft there would not solve the issues overnight.

“One issue is whether it’s simply a marketing issue with the airport failing to make its case to the London catchment area and the airlines.”





Echo: Airport boss - Southend Airport chief executive John UptonAirport boss - Southend Airport chief executive John Upton (Image: Southend Airport)


With competing Stansted and Luton airports becoming busier, an airline “may decide to decamp” to Southend to benefit from lower fees or better slots, he added.

Mr Devlin warned the airport “will remain caught in the middle” if it fails to give airlines a reason to use it.

“Low-cost carriers are increasingly competing on the thick routes to popular destinations and have moved away from the secondary airports they once favoured,” he explained.

The deal with Carlyle and global investment firm Cyrus Capital Partners includes up to £32million of new funding which the airport hopes will secure its future growth.

Airport boss John Upton said the investors have extensive industry experience and “deep knowledge” of Southend Airport.

He added the airport is “ideally placed” to serve airlines who are looking to grow their London operations.

In a statement, Carlyle and Cyrus Capital said they are “excited” to work with the airport’s management team