Eddie Stobart to take to the skies from Southend

7.4.2010 (FT)

By Gill Plimmer

Talk about a clever marketing ploy. First, Eddie Stobart gains notoriety for
its truck spotters, the fans who set up their deck chairs outside depots and tick
off the names of its 1,800 trucks – all girls; Peggy Sue, Grace or Dolly.

Now Stobart is hoping to attract plane spotters; it is searching for a partner
to launch cheap passenger flights to Europe from Southend airport in Essex – an
ambitious move that could see the company’s red, white and green logos emblazoned
on the side of the aircraft, each with a girl’s name. This should win the fans
over. There are already some taking snapshots of themselves outside the Eddie
Stobart café at Southend airport.

With the ink still drying on the planning permission for the extension of the
runway, which gained government approval last month, Andrew Tinkler, chief executive
of Eddie Stobart, is excited by the possibilities.

“There’s nothing to stop us branding Stobart on the livery of our aircraft. The
fans love us; it’s a great opportunity for marketing,” he says. Stobart trucks
could soon be advertising cheap flights as they plough down the M3.

Stobart bought Southend airport three years ago in a £21m deal. Although it is
currently a hub for aircraft maintenance and private business jets, a partnership
between Stobart and a European airline could transform Southend, once London’s
third-biggest passenger hub, into a rival to London City airport. Mr Tinkler is
hoping it will carry 2m passengers a year to and from North Africa and southern
Europe in time for the start of the Olympics in 2012 – almost as many as City
airport, which has shorter opening hours.

Located to the east of the capital, Southend avoids the congested London flight
path, shaving 20 minutes off journey times to Europe and saving on fuel. Mr Tinkler
says the company has already won “a lot of interest” from European carriers and
services should be up and running soon.

But the business plan does not end there. The white skeleton of the new railway
station that will take passengers from the airport to Liverpool Street station
in 49 minutes has already been built.

There is also room for a four-star Stobart hotel; an academy to train aeroplane
engineers; and a shop with the brand’s paraphernalia – toy trucks and teddy bears.

As if that is not enough, there is a  Steady Eddie  DVD in the making that will
teach children the benefits of green-friendly transport. If it sounds like Southend
airport may soon be a Stobart theme park, that is because it almost could be.
A Stobart flag already flies outside the main terminal.

This is not to say the logistics company is turning its back on freight. Mr Tinkler
bought Eddie Stobart in 2003 after the company ran into trouble during the fuel
crisis. Since then it has expanded dramatically, embracing rail, sea and air freight
in addition to its core road haulage business.

Turnover for the year to March is expected to have risen five-fold from the £109m
reported in 2008-09 to £540m, while analysts are forecasting that pre-tax profits
will have risen from £3.5m to £29m in the three years since it listed on the London
stock market.

Expanding the air freight business is crucial to Mr Tinkler’s vision of providing
an integrated logistics service. Eighty- five per cent of air cargo freight in
and out of London comes on passenger aircraft so the company will save money with
an established airline as partner.

The company also bought the Lake District airport in Carlisle, where Stobart
is based, last summer, and plans to run flights from there – both passenger and

But Mr Tinkler will not be abandoning its core road haulage business just yet.
“You always need a truck at the end of any journey,” he says. Truck spotters may
be relieved.