THIS year has caused immense difficulties and hardships to businesses up and down the country, and the aviation sector is certainly one that has been among the hardest hit.

But at Teesside Airport, despite all the challenges, we continue to go from strength to strength, and the announcement last month that Ryanair would be flying again from our airport was a seismic moment.

The fact that Europe’s biggest low-cost airline is backing Teesside and announcing it is going to fly from our region again shows that our airport has a great future and is in safe hands.

Securing a low-cost airline was always the crucial part in our rescue plan for the airport, and less than two years after agreeing a deal to buy it back and save it from closure, we have made it happen. I want to thank our excellent team who have had a hard year but have got this over the line, making sure Ryanair understands and appreciates the potential of Teesside.

Every time I have announced new flights from our airport, people have always said to me: "What about a low-cost carrier? What about Ryanair?" This is a huge vote of confidence in Teesside despite us being in the middle of a global pandemic. Our airport has withstood huge challenges before and it is doing so again, coming out the other side even stronger.

It’s not just the airport that is turning a corner, with the Prime Minister recently saying that he expected all vulnerable people to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by Easter next year, if all goes well. Imagine them being able to look forward to that, and also the potential of a fantastic holiday with family or friends as these flights launch.

With TUI, Loganair, and now Ryanair all flying again from the airport, it's now important we improve the terminal and facilities and make sure the passenger experience is a great one and fitting for a thriving international airport.

Now we've got the flights, we can get to work on this, with new restaurants, bars, coffee shops, lounges, shopping areas, security and much more.

All of this is part of our 10-year rescue plan which will help the airport return to profit, and these new offerings will help us do that by increasing revenue at the airport.

2021 was billed as the year that the airport was closing, but instead it’s the year that it is being reborn. Our finances are on track and we have made even more progress in two years than I could have dared to dream when we bought it. Many people told me it couldn’t be done, but this is the biggest proof yet that we did the right thing.

Teesside Airport has a great future. We’ve got the flights, we’re making improvements to the terminal, we’ve got global businesses choosing to invest and base themselves here, and now we’ve got Ryanair. What a fantastic early birthday present for the airport – and for people across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.

l Ben Houchen is the Conservative directly-elected mayor of the Tees Valley