NEW routes and airline operators could be coming to Southend Airport.

That’s the aim of owner the Stobart Group, which has sold a 51 per cent stake in the famous trucking business, Eddie Stobart, to clear debts and focus on other parts of the empire.

Stobart will get £195.6million for the Eddie Stobart operation, as well shares worth £44.1million in the new venture, as it is sold to a management company.

A statement pledged the money would enable it to focus on other parts of the business, including passenger growth at the airport.

It said it will be looking to “secure new airline operators serving London and the South East” and use Aer Lingus owner Aer Arann to bring new destinations to the airport.

There was aviation industry speculation earlier this year that the airport’s 15 routes could be extended with Copenhagen, in Denmark, Frankfurt, in Germany, Glasgow, Madrid, in Spain, and Zurich, in Switzerland, the likely new destinations.

David Burch, director of policy at the Essex Chambers of Commerce, said: “If the decision releases further investment in the airport, that can only be good news.

“They’ve already created several hundred jobs there and revitalised it, and if this brings in more investment, it is certainly to be welcomed.”

Stobart chairman Iain Ferguson said the deal was an important step in generating value for its shareholders.

He said: “These proposals allow us to repay debt, make a return of capital to shareholders, stimulate the growth of our biomass business and bring the group’s businesses together in a coherent, medium-term value creation plan.”

The company’s share price fell by 7.75p on the day of the announcement.