A SENSE of pride emanates from William Stobart as he surveys Southend Airport’s new £10million terminal.
The 49-year-old chief operating officer of Stobart Group has overseen the aviation equivalent of the Industrial Revolution since his firm bought the airport four years ago.
Back then, it was little more than a haven for amateur flying enthusiasts and cargo flights.
Now, with more than £100million invested in new infrastructure and commercial airlines queuing up to take advantage of the state-of-the-art facilities, it is a different story.
He said: “I was always confident we could make a difference here. We had a vision for what we wanted to do and we have gone out and done that.”
Stobart stunned the aviation industry when it stumped up £21million for the airport in December 2008.
At the time, many experts predicted Global Infrastructure Partners, the owner of London City Airport, would be the buyer. Stobart, known for its haulage business, had no history in aviation and no track record of success.
But Mr Stobart, the son of the firm’s iconic founder, Eddie, was confident it could take on the challenge.
He said: “When you look at airports all around the world, all you see is inefficiency.
“We wanted to change that. We wanted to take the principles of what we do now and use that in Southend.
“We have 2,500 trucks on the road. More than ninety-nine per cent of those deliveries are on time. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t get the business.
“We asked ourselves: ‘Why couldn’t that be done with airports?’, and the answer is it could.”
The stamp of Stobart efficiency can be seen all over the rejevunated airport.
It is fewer than 100 paces from the new £15million railway station to the terminal entrance.
Bosses have promised it will take no longer than four minutes for customers to clear security checks, and no more than 15 minutes for arriving passengers to go from “plane to train”.
Those figures have been backed up by trials, although they will be tested more seriously when easyJet starts the first of 70 flights a week on April 2.
Those routes will be followed by the start of flights to Dublin on May 10, via Irish airline Aer Lingus Regional, with connections to the US on Aer Lingus’s transatlantic services.
Mr Stobart is confident they will be a success. He said: “I think easyJet were attracted by what we have built here.
“We wanted to be efficient, but also to offer convenience to our passengers.
“People don’t want to be standing around in the airport any more than we want them to be. That’s what we’re selling to people.”
The Stobart vision may be revolutionary, but it is one that is shared by the people guiding the airport on a day-to-day basis.
Alastair Welch, the managing director, has previously said he has “never wanted to stick with what I have. I always want to take it on to the next level, to see how it could be improved”.
That mantra has steered him through the sometimes turbulent waters of the airport’s expansion programme, which started more than two years ago.
He said: “I think one of the most satisfying things is the support we have received from the community.
“We’ve tried to deal with them on a personal level, so we can address any worries they might have.
“I hope they can see this is their airport – it is Southend’s airport. We are part of that community.”