A NEW era began at Southend Airport with a blast of an easyJet engine.

As dawn broke across the extended runway yesterday, the first passengers of easyJet’s ten-year tenure at the airport shuffled through the doors of the new £10million terminal.

The budget airline’s inaugural flights – to Belfast, Barcelona and Amsterdam – passed largely without hitches, although people on the soldout Barcelona route were delayed for 40 minutes because of the knock-on effects of a French air traffic control strike. Later in the day, there were delays of up to two hours on easyJet flights to and from Amsterdam and Belfast.

But the wait did not dishearten delighted passengers, many of whom had booked their tickets as soon as they went on sale last summer. Theresa Kudla, 54, from Leigh said: “We have been waiting for this since August. We are only a 30-minute walk from the airport, so it’s a fantastic facility for us. I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve seen.”

Boris and Liz Chetnik from Rochford flew to Barcelona with their two children. Mr Chetnik, 43, said: “It’s going to be very good to have this on our doorstep..”

Linzi Haigh, 43, travelled to the airport from her home in East London on the new rail link from Liverpool Street.

She said: “It was very easy to get to and I was impressed by how quick check-in was. We would usually go to Stansted, so it’s nice to have an option.”

EasyJet will base three aircraft at Southend to serve nine destinations this summer, with Geneva replacing one of the routes in winter.

Airport bosses have promised it will take no longer than four minutes to check in, and no more than 15 minutes for arriving passengers to go from “plane to train”.

Catherine Lynn, easyJet’s director of customer and revenue, said: “We’ve been delighted with how well the first flights have gone. The feedback has been fantastic.”