AN airport is preparing to launch a shuttle bus to help travellers.

From next month, customers with valid plane tickets for Durham Tees Valley Airport can take advantage of the free half-hourly Sky Express coach service linking the airport's main terminal with Darlington train station and town hall.

Two 24-seat buses, supported by development agency One NorthEast, will be paid for with £530,000 from Tees Valley and County Durham Economic Partnerships.

John Holmes, One NorthEast's director of regeneration and tourism, described the service as part of a significant investment in the long-term future of the Tees Valley.

He said: "It will not only make it easier for people in the region to use the airport, but will also provide visitors with a convenient way to travel more widely into the North-East."

Airport managing director Hugh Lang believes the service will be popular.

Tees Valley Partnership chief executive John Lowther said: "A successful and expanding airport is one of the key elements in our vision for the regeneration of the area, and providing quality transport links is vital in enabling it to develop its full potential."

A waiting area for shuttle bus passengers will be created at the airport, and Darlington railway station may get a Sky Express lounge this year.

The bus service is part of a multi-million pound expansion scheme for the airport.

Plans, including the creation of a business park, cargo and maintenance village, hotel, pub, restaurant and extended car parking, are aimed at equipping the airport to handle up to three million passengers a year within the next decade.