What does the future hold for London City Airport? Plans for expansion – approved by Newham Council but opposed by the capital’s outgoing Mayor Boris Johnson – will be examined at a public inquiry next year. Guild members were given an in depth insight into the proposals during a fascinating visit to Docklands.
The airport’s problem is the opposite of that faced by Heathrow and Gatwick, where the pressing need is more runway capacity. London City needs more terminal space and bigger parking aircraft stands. There’s nowhere to extend the runway and certainly nowhere to build a new one.
Behind its requirements are growth in passenger numbers, 57% of whom travel on business, and the imminent advent of larger aircraft, namely Bombardier’s C series jets. They will be able to carry more passengers over longer distances while making less noise. But they have a greater wingspan than those now using the airport, which means they can’t use the taxi way or park at the western end of the runway.
So the airport, which is up for sale, wants to provide seven new stands, a new eastern passenger pier, additional terminal capacity and an extended taxiway that would enable a sharp increase in the number of flights per hour it could handle. The western pier is already being extended to provide 84% more pace and 600 extra seats for travellers. The first of its gates are scheduled to start functioning in spring and the whole project will be completed by the end of next year.
Members were told London City was on course to handle 4.2 million passengers this year – something those of us who reported on its birth in 1987 could scarcely have imagined. Then only turboprop aircraft could operate there and, during a troubled infancy, flights were briefly suspended because of a problem feeding them into a busy eastward air lane from Heathrow.
It continues to make much of its 20 minutes minimum check in and the fact that passengers can make it from plane to DLR train in 15 minutes – including baggage collection.
We were shown how the flow of travellers can be monitored using software called CrowdVision, which tracks the tops of their heads as they move through the terminal and shows hot spots where congestion builds up. Originally designed to assist with mega events such as the Haj, this has already prompted the airport’s managers to move electronic check in machines.
Our group also learned that there’s a possibility a brewery might be built on site, with beer piped direct to pumps in the terminal.
Particular thanks are due to Charlotte Beeching, the airport’s head of communications, and Geoff Moore, who organized the visit.