INTERNATIONAL air travel returned to Southend Airport for the first time in ten years yesterday.

Two Aer Arann flights, carrying more than 100 passengers, arrived from Waterford and Galway in Ireland.

The first 90-minute flight touched down at 8.55am.

Paul Schutz, the airline’s chief executive, was one of the first people to test the facilities at the airport.

He said: “We see Southend as a fantastic opportunity for passengers wanting to go to London.

“That’s very important with the Olympics next year and we look forward to offering passengers excellent onward connections to Europe in the future.”

The airline operates more than 600 flights a week.

Flights to and from Galway will operate four days a week at Southend and three days a week on the Waterford route. The airport expects to offer a duty discount service when the new terminal opens later this year.

Alastair Welch, airport managing director, said: “Incoming passengers can enjoy everything Southend has to offer, as well as using the excellent links we have to London.

“Now the airport and Aer Arann can offer the attractions of both Galway and Waterford to local people. The service also offers excellent business links.”

Passengers arriving at Southend yesterday were greeted by a shuttle bus service to nearby Rochford train station and a newly-opened car rental office.

Tadgh Moriarty, 23, a doctor, and Stephen McHugh, 29, an engineer, arrived from Ireland.

Mr Moriarty said: “We actually started out with a weekend in Galway but while there we decided to catch the flight to Southend to see a friend who works in London.

“So we’ll be here for a couple of days and we liked the sound of Southend. It’s much more convenient, personal and now we’re going to check out the train links to London.”

The Turboprop aircraft, made by French Italian manufacturer ATR, was soon ready for the return trip.

Jan Jackson, 59, a former fraud investigator and her husband Alf, 64, a builder, of Ashingdon Road, Rochford, were waiting in the departure lounge.

Jan said: “We are going to Waterford for a day trip and the day is a gift from our son who works at the airport.”

Valerie and Barry Carter, a teaching assistant and engineer, both 54, travelled from Northampton for the flight.

He said: “My wife has family in Ireland and we will be spending two days over there.

“I actually work in Southend, so it was a convenient place to depart from and we’re both looking forward to the flight.”