Minister for the Thames Gateway, Bob Neill MP, visited London Southend Airport today (18 July 2011), to officially open the first of the airports completed new development projects an all-new state-of-the-art air traffic control tower. Operational since March this year, the control tower marks the first completed project in an impressive portfolio of developments at London Southend Airport, including a new dedicated train station, new terminal building, runway extension and a new hotel. The tower is 26 metres tall and contains an approach radar control room in addition to the visual control room at the top of the building. This cab offers panoramic views of the airfield and wider Thames Gateway area, with air traffic controllers able to see up to 20 miles on a clear day, with radar coverage over a far wider area. To coincide with the construction of the new building, there have also been significant changes made to airfield instruments and control systems in preparation of future growth at the airport. The Minister was shown around the tower by members of the air traffic control team who provide a service to pilots flying through the area in addition to those using the airport, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Bob Neill MP said: Today London Southend Airport has taken another important step in its expansion with the official opening of its new, state-of-the-art control tower – the newest in the UK. I’ve seen for myself the excellent work the airport is doing to employ and train local talent and their plans over the next year will see 500 more jobs created. It’s great to see how committed Stobart and easyJet are to fulfilling the potential of the airport and the Thames Gateway. He added: Its wonderful that today I will be able to leave the airport by train. With its dedicated station running services into London via Stratford for the first time it’s clear that London Southend Airport will be an absolutely essential transport hub for the Olympic Games. And its potential goes way beyond London 2012: this growing airport will create many thousands of new jobs across Essex over the coming years, improve the Thames Gateway’s international connectivity and deliver economic growth for local people and businesses. Airport managing director Alastair Welch said: We are very pleased to welcome the Minister to the airport, to officially open the new control tower building. The contrast with the previous facility reflects the very significant investment that new owners Stobart Group have brought since their purchase of the airport in late 2008. With investment in the new railway station, terminal, runway extension and hotel, we are proud to be playing a key part in the regeneration of the local area and the wider Thames Gateway. Stobart Group CEO, Andrew Tinkler, added: Today marks the start of a new era of modern facilities and cutting edge equipment here at the fast-developing London Southend Airport. It supports both our strategy as a Group to develop the airport as a fast and friendly gateway serving the South East and London, and also will support the airport as we embark on marked growth in flights and passenger numbers. Our target is to achieve two million passengers per year, and the new control tower forms a fundamental part of this strategy. In addition to the major redevelopment of the airport under the ownership of Stobart Group, which include the new train station operational as of today with up to eight services an hour into Stratford (approx 40mins and home to the 2012 London Olympics) and Liverpool Street (approx 50mins) London Southend recently announced a partnership with easyJet. easyJets commercial manager, Hugh Aitken, said: The start of services from the airport train station today is another important step in establishing London Southend as the South-Easts new fast and efficient gateway. Combined with the new Control Tower officially opened today, the airport is fast becoming the UKs most modern airport with the best in facilities for both the industry and passengers alike. Were very much looking forward to our tickets going on sale later this month and beginning our first flights from April next year. As part of the ten-year agreement with easyJet, flights to a host of new destinations will commence in April 2012, including Barcelona, Faro and Ibiza, and three A319 aircraft as well as 150 airline employees will be based at the airport. 800,000 passengers are expected to fly in the first year, with easyJet tickets from London Southend going on sale later this month. This comes on top of flights that currently operate to Jersey, Waterford and Galway with Flybe and Aer Arann. The additional passenger flights will lead to a further 350 new jobs on the ground at the airport over the next year. The airport is also home to a wide range of aviation companies, other airlines and operators, with almost 1,500 people already employed across the site a number that will rise towards 2,000 over the next year.