London Southend: The forgotten "London" Airport

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With Airtrack and other schemes focusing attention on the United Kingdom’s largest and busiest airports, it is easier to miss activity at the one of the country’s lesser know airports: Southend Airport in South East Essex.

Southend Airport, renamed London Southend in 2008, is in the middle of a massive overhaul in preparation for receiving passengers during the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012. New developments include a brand new terminal building, a 300m runway extension, a new air traffic control tower and, importantly, a dedicated railway station.

This upgrade programme is to facilitate many more intra-European services than present (currently the only scheduled commercial flight is to Jersey, operated by Flybe). At the moment, Frankfurt is only city that has said that it wants to run services to the airport, but other cities in Europe are presumed to want to serve Southend, as it will be cheaper to land there than at other London airports.

Hard as it is to imagine now, during the 1960s Southend was the third busiest airport in the country, with Heathrow and Gatwick taking first and second place respectively. It continued to handled more flights than Stansted until well into the 1970s making it, in practice, London’s third airport. In 1993, however, the airport, suffering heavy losses, was sold to Regional Airports Ltd, the operator of Biggin Hill in South London, by Southend Borough Council. Since then, commercial flights have been sparse, with most flights being chartered or private. In January 2008, the airport was put up for sale, and on 12 December of that year, it was bought by the Stobart Group for £21 million, who also own Carlisle Airport. It is this company that is overseeing the improvements to the airport.

The work will be carried out in two phases: Phase 1 will include the new railway station and air traffic control tower. A runway extension and new terminal building will is included in Phase 2.

Today, rail access to the airport is from Rochford station which is three quarters of a mile away. Passengers have to change for a shuttle bus to the airport. The trains are operated by National Express East Anglia, which run services on the line between Southend Victoria and London Liverpool Street via Shenfield, Romford and Stratford. There is a train every 20 minutes.

A brand new station: Southend Airport, between Rochford and Prittlewell, is due to be opened on Sunday 12th December 2010. Designed by Atkins, it was completed this September 2010. By the Olympics in 2012, there will be eight trains per hour, the vast majority of the passengers being spectators arriving from Continental Europe. Journey time from the airport station to Liverpool Street will be about 53 minutes.
The new air traffic control tower has been built, but it will not be in operation until early 2011.

The only runway at the airport is 1,605 metres long and 37 metres wide. It is due to be extended 300 metres to the south-west to 1,905 metres, but still maintaining the same width. With this, the runway could declare an available take-off distance of 1,799 metres. This was approved on 13th October 2009. When the work is completed, the runway will be able to accept Airbus A319 and Boeing 737s, for short-haul flights only. A new Instrument Landing System (ILS) will improve safety.

As mentioned above, a brand new terminal is also to be built in two phases. When first opened, it will have five aircraft stands, and will later be expanded to have a further five, bringing it to a total of ten. In comparison, Stansted has 70 stands. The extended runway and the new terminal building are due to be completed in 2011.
To reduce annoyance caused by flying at night, the proposals suggest an 87% reduction in the cap on night flights from 915 (today) to a maximum of 120 flights per month – the number of night flights currently at the airport between 11.00pm and 6.30am.

No aircraft with a Quota Count (QC) of greater than one will be allowed to operate at night. QC1 aircraft are one of the quieter categories of aircraft. Aircraft during this night time period will take off and land away from Southend, over less populated areas, unless there are significant conditions which prevent this.

By 2020, the intention is that there will be four planes per hour landing at and taking off from the airport, with 2 million passengers per year. The airport will employ 3,000 staff to work in the area, with 2,500 of them at the airport. In overall terms the airport would be the generator of over 6,700 jobs in the local area.

The East of England has been one of the fastest growing economies in the last twenty years. This expansion of London Southend will boost that dramatically, and the airport and the passengers it brings will no doubt have an impact on how people travel to the capital. This airport will not only benefit Essex, but the whole of London and the South East.

Written by George Moore