The owner of Southend airport today revealed £40 million plans to expand its aviation interests despite having a takeover bid for Flybe rebuffed earlier in the year.

The three-year plan emerged as Stobart Group, which also has rail and energy divisions, reported profits of more than £100 million for the year to the end of February against a loss of £8 million in the previous 12 months.

Revenue was up to £242 million from £129.4 million year-on-year.

Southend was the UK’s fastest growing airport in 2017 with a 29% increase in passenger numbers to more than one million.

The Essex airport has capacity to comfortably handle five million passengers by 2022 and take up the slack over the next decade before a prospective third runway opens at Heathrow.

Regional airline Stobart Air saw 9% increase in passengers through franchise and commercial agreements with Aer Lingus and Flybe.

Commercial passenger flights by Loganair are due to start from Stobart-owned Carlisle Lake District airport from next month.

Stobart CEO Warwick Brady, a former easyJet chief operating officer, admitted that the Flybe deal was “dead in the water” but the company maintained a strong commercial partnership with the airline.

The focus would now be on growing in-house carrier Stobart Air alongside expansion at Southend airport.

He said there were “particular opportunities” to develop the group’s aviation division.

“We have a lot of management experience in the aviation sector, a background in logistics and a ‘trusted to deliver’ culture aimed at delivering first class customer service,” he said.

“Our strategy is based on unlocking the current London airport capacity constraints through our London Southend airport by increasing passenger numbers and attracting more airlines as well as improving customer services by expanding our aviation services offering and, ultimately, building on our growing reputation.

“We also continue to enjoy strong performance from our regional airline, Stobart Air.”

Brady added: “For Stobart Air, I want to improve every aspect of the regional air travel experience.

“In this regard, we intend to invest up to £40 million in relation to awareness, route development, branding, marketing and airline incentive deals at London Stansted airport.

“Approximately £10 million has already been invested during the year with the remainder of the investment planned to take place over the next three years to February 2021.

“As part of this, in May 2017, we started operations to 11 additional European destinations through our franchise with Flybe operated by Stobart Air.”

However, he admitted that the failure of a number of European airlines, including Monarch, Alitalia and Air Berlin “impacted our ability to secure new carriers” at Southend.

“Nevertheless, the decision by easyJet to introduce a fourth plane demonstrates the attractiveness of our airport to airlines that are looking for growth.

“Our focus over the next 12 months will be to ensure that we deliver on progressing the key targets.

These are to attract more passengers to London Southend airport and to increase deliveries on Stobart Energy contracts.

“We expect numbers to grow with the new routes launched, with Air Malta commencing from May 2018.

“We have seen growth in Stobart Aviation Services with the securing of a new contract to provide ground handling services to easyJet at London Stansted, which began on March 1, and we hope to secure further new contracts in the coming year.

“We also look forward to commencing passenger flights from Carlisle Lake District airport.”