Stobart Group has shot down a suggestion from Transport Minister Robert Goodwill that scheduled passenger flights from Carlisle Airport will begin in the spring. 

But it says it remains committed to plans for daily services from Carlisle to London Southend, Belfast and Dublin. 

Conservative Mr Goodwill had raised hopes that flights might start imminently. 

Speaking in a debate on airport expansion last week,he said: 

“The Chancellor announced in November that 11 new air routes from smaller UK airports would be supported, with about £7m of start-up aid over the next three financial years. 

“Those routes will begin operating from this spring, and they will provide domestic links between England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as international connectivity to France, Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland.” 

The three routes from Carlisle are included in Mr Goodwill’s list. 

But Stobart Group, which owns Carlisle Airport, says it will not be ready to start flights in the spring. 

Work has yet to begin to upgrade the runway and install an instrument landing system, which must be completed before passenger services can start. 

The company expects to spend between £3m and £4m on the project – more if it opts to move the passenger terminal into a corner of the new freight distribution centre, completed last autumn. 

This would allow direct access from the A689. A spokesman for Stobart Group said: “Clearly, the airport isn’t going to be ready in time for the spring. 

“Work on the runway and upgrading other airport facilities have yet to be completed, and we’ve never said it would be done by the spring. We can’t give a time frame.”

Chief executive Andrew Tinkler has said previously that summer 2016 is the earliest likely start date for flights. The plan is to offer twice-daily flights to London Southend, which has a direct rail link to central London. 

These would be timed to allow passengers from Cumbria to spend a full day in the day capital. 

There would be one flight a day to Belfast and one to Dublin, the latter with onward connections to the US. 

The airline Stobart Air, which is part owned by Stobart Group, is expected to operate the services.