The dream of international passenger flights from Carlisle Airport could be airborne by next summer.

Stobart Group boss Andrew Tinkler says a £13 million investment from his firm combined with a £5m injection of tax payers’ cash will transform the airport, paving the way for flights to London Southend, Dublin and Belfast.

He predicts up to 40,000 passengers a year will use the London service, with 20,000 taking flights to Belfast and Dublin.

Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry announced the funding after he and Carlisle MP John Stevenson met business leaders, who say the development will boost Cumbria’s economy.

Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership submitted a successful bid to the Government for the £4.75m to boost the project as part of a series of investments.

Passenger flights from the airport have been a vision that have inspired Mr Tinkler for more than a decade.

Critics have long been sceptical that he could deliver Carlisle Airport as a vibrant passenger and freight terminal.

Yet after years of debate, discussion and legal wrangling, the catalyst that could make it happen has finally arrived - hard cash.

This latest injection will fund the construction of a new terminal building and an upgrade of the runway – key to ensuring that bigger 118-seat passenger planes can land in Carlisle.

Destinations include London Southend (already owned by Stobart), Belfast and Dublin, from where passengers can fly direct to the US.

Standing near to the airport’s white and soon-to-be redundant terminal building, Mr Tinkler said: “We’ve set this up as a catalyst, using our own airline.

“Once we make this sustainable we believe other operators will be interested.

“Stobart Group are investing a total of £13m in this project.

“The £4.75m will help support and sustain it. It’s private business and the Government working together to create jobs, and it will help the local economy. It opens us up to the rest of the world.”

Despite the years of battling and the numerous setbacks along the way, Mr Tinkler’s passion for the passenger airport project is undiminished.

The Lake District is a landscape of international fame and this airport will bring tourists to the area in their thousands, he believes. Carlisle’s tourism could also benefit.

He admitted it took a long time to lay the groundwork for his vision – the creation of the Stobart transport distribution centre beside the airport.

A huge sprawling grey building, it covers an area of land the size of The Lanes shopping centre in Carlisle, according to one estimate. With that facility in place the airport will also be ideally placed to handle air freight.

“We have a proper business plan,” said Mr Tinkler.

“It will take time to build up and there’ll be a lot of work to do on marketing. Hopefully, we’ll get help from the local tourist board; and from a business point of view you’ll be able to get to London and back in the same day.

“It will be quicker than the train. This airport can compete. You’ll get cheaper prices if you get in early. What’s our unique selling point?

“This is in the heart of Cumbria where there are a lot of assets which tourists want.”

Passengers will also enjoy the more efficient and less frantic service than can be offered at bigger airports, said Mr Tinkler.

In the shorter term, the project’s construction phase should create more than 100 jobs while the passenger flights side of the business will create another 50 positions.

Mr Berry shares Tinkler’s enthusiasm.

Describing Carlisle as the “true north”, the minister said: “With flights starting in the [summer] next year, it’s a huge opportunity to open up Cumbria to the world.

“I wanted to ensure that everybody who lives in Carlisle and Cumbria knows that as a minister I’ve been tasked by our Prime Minister Theresa May to reinvigorate the Northern Powerhouse. Cumbria and Carlisle and all the towns and villages and cities in the north of England are as much a part of the Northern Powerhouse as any other.”

He said the Government had invested £60m in Cumbria alone as part of the Northern Powerhouse project.

After meeting local business leaders, he had a long list of things that they want the Government to put in place.

Among those who met the minister was Rob Johnston, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce. He is also on the board of Cumbria LEP.

Asked about the scale of passenger flights that the airport might expect to see, he said: “It’s not just about numbers.

“It’s a public statement, telling the world that Cumbria is open for business. We need international investment and we have real opportunities, both in the nuclear sector in west Cumbria and in tourism.

“Carlisle Airport is crucial to Cumbria’s growth ambitions. It is a key strategic asset for the county.”

He added: “There’s real support for this in the business community.

“When senior executives are looking at Cumbria and thinking about investing here one of the first things they look at is the infrastructure and pretty high on their list of priorities is the proximity of an airport.”

On the minister’s visit, Mr Johnston welcomed it, noting that Mr Berry was just two weeks into his new job.

“We had a very useful meeting,” said Mr Johnston. “I and others stressed to the minister the importance of Cumbria to the success of the Northern Powerhouse and the UK economy: the need for the Government to do everything possible to deliver Moorside [new-build nuclear power station in west Cumbria]; and that although we are anticipating international investment of £25bn within the next decade, we still need support and investment in infrastructure, skills and flood resilience.”