Stobart Group, which owns Southend Airport and controls Stobart Air, confirmed the news in a bullish trading update today.
Stobart said that the Brexit vote has had “a short-term impact” on business development in its aviation division, with some airlines delaying further investment in their UK operations.
However, the expected deal with Irish airline CityJet would mean that the airport remains on track with regard to its growth targets.
Chief Executive Andrew Tinkler said: “We are very pleased to be working with CityJet to add new flights at London Southend Airport. This arrangement will open up around 18 new destinations, giving our customers more choice.
“These additional services could bring up to 600,000 passengers per year to the airport, providing us with further momentum towards achieving our target run rate of 2.5 million passengers by 2018.”
The news came as Stobart announced that underlying earnings in the six months to the end of August have doubled to £20.2m, with turnover 13% higher at £65.3m. The group made £10.8m before tax, up from £0.6m in the same period last year.
Cityjet is likely to base up to four of its new SSJ100 aircraft at Southend. Earlier this year, the airline said that it planned to grow its network by flying routes under contract for other airlines. The carrier already has a strong presence in London City Airport.
CityJet currently flies to destinations including Florence, Dublin, Nantes and Rotterdam, but Stobart are keeping tight-lipped about what the new routes from Southend might be.
Mr Tinkler said: ““Discussions with CityJet are at an early stage, and while the company felt it important to information shareholders of this significant step, it does not have further information to add at this time.”
A statement from CityJet added: "“CityJet today announced that is has reached an outline agreement with the Stobart Group, owners of London Southend Airport, to base aircraft at the London airport from summer 2017.
“The agreement will involve CityJet operating routes from the award-winning London airport to European destinations. The airline said the agreement with London Southend Airport will create up to 80 new jobs in the region.
“Full route details will be confirmed in due course.”