SOUTHEND Airport has finally been sold.

As revealed exclusively by the Echo, the new owner is the Stobart Group, best known for the Eddie Stobart road haulage firm.

Stobart said it would operate passenger flights across the UK and Europe alongside its air freight operations.

Stobart chief executive Andrew Tinkler said the group had conditionally agreed to buy Southend Airport from Regional Airports Limited for a maximum £21m.

The group will then implement plans for the site, including construction of a new railway station, terminal and hotel "as soon as possible".

Mr Tinkler said the company had already entered into talks with a number of airlines about operating passenger flights from the airport.

"Development of Southend Airport as a leading passenger and cargo airport will be excellent news for both Southend and the wider South East region," he said.

"Stobart has the necessary skills, including rail infrastructure and civil engineering expertise, to make a positive impact on the airport's development plans."

The company said it anticipates Southend's "congestion-free" airspace would mean passengers would experience speedier travel times than at other London airports, including would-be rival London City.

Stobart said it would work with the local council to discuss ways of developing the airport's potential, including the possibility of an extended runway "which could help meet the undoubted demand for European business and leisure travel".