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September 2022, Virtual
September 29 2022, Virtual
The sounds of popping Champagne corks could well compete with the power surge of jet engines at London City Airport this year - there is much to celebrate. After seeing passenger numbers drop by 14 per cent during the recession of 2009, and slow recovery in the first quarter of 2010, chief executive Rchard Gooding now reports strong growth.
Annual traveller throughput is on target for a return to more than three million, and the 12 airlines flying to 29 destinations across Europe, and the US, are in buoyant mood as load factors improve.
The international gateway in Docklands also marked the first anniversary of British Airways' (BA) New York JFK service in September with a joint staff party at a local hotel, where the UK flag carrier unveiled a new on-board cocktail.
And there will be yet more excuses to quaff bubbly before the end of the year when the refurbishment of the security search area and departure lounge is completed.
The airport's main catchment areas are Canary Wharf and the city's Square Mile, where banking and financial services make the capital a leading centre of global finance. And its proximity to the UK's financial heartbeat is just one of the facility's unique selling points.
It is a true city airport - just three miles from Canary Wharf and six from the City of London - with fast transport links for the business travellers who make up 70 per cent of passengers. The terminal is surprisingly tranquil for a city airport and there are more than enough amenities to keep travellers fed, watered and entertained - though often they don't need to stop, given it takes as little as 10 minutes to get from check-in to the departure gate.
As Richard Gooding points out: "At London Heathrow's Terminal 5, a sign warns departing passengers that there is a 28-minute, one-mile walk to the furthest departure gate; at LCY the distance is 200 metres."
Standard check-in time is also way ahead of London City's rival at just 20-minutes, although like all airports, heightened security has taken its toll in terms of time and traveller patience.
Gooding admits that security is a problem. "We recognise passengers are enduring unacceptably long queues at the security checking lanes," he says. "We are committed to processing them as quickly as possible. our £7 million investment in an extra floor to enlarge the security area and give more lanes and elbow room, together with the recruitment of more staff, is expected to significantly reduce queues and allow normal service to resume."
To minimise inconvenience to passengers, all noisy and dusty work is done overnight when the airport is closed, and to further improve the traveller experience, training the new intake to be user-friendly is a priority. "With 40 per cent of passengers checking in online, and 30 per cent using self-check-in machines, the only interaction many have with staff at the airport is at departures," adds Gooding. "So it's important that security personnel are consistently polite and helpful. This impacts on the overall view our travellers have of LCY."
Although the airport will eventually have full body scanners, the immediate focus is on smart phones. barcode boarding pass technology is the future, according to the airport's bosses, and will be key to the efficiency of the airport.
All this is in contrast to the altogether less turbulent times in which London City grew up and evolved, when such security issues were relatively unheard of. Rather, the problem then was local opposition to an airport as part of the regeneration of London's Docklands - largely destroyed by Blitz during the Second World War - that delayed its development.
But after various studies in the early 1980s on the feasibility of a short take-off and landing (STOL) gateway in the area, and a long running public enquiry, permission was finally granted in 1986. Construction work began with the laying of the foundation stone by the Prince of Wales the same year, and in November 1987 the Queen officially opened London City Airport.
Brymon Airways and Eurocity Express inaugurated the first flights, using turbo-prop aircraft. By the end of 1987, 15,000 passengers had flown from the UK's newest airport.
Two years later, the airport submitted a planning application to extend the runway, allowing it to serve more distant destinations with a broader range of aircraft - which triggered a six-month public enquiry. Permission for expansion was granted, and in 1992 the airport received another seal of royal approval when Princess Diana attended the re-launch of the airport and its longer runway. Within weeks, Crossair began services to Zurich flying the BAE 146 - ushering in London City's jet age.
Fast forward to 2008, through more refurbishments and increasing passenger numbers, and the Docklands gateway was about to achieve a goal that early visionaries could never have foreseen - long-haul flights.
BA announced it would start an all-Business Class service to New York, via Shannon in Ireland. Many doubted the business model of one-cabin premium travel, given the failures of Maxjet, EOS and Silverjet in the years previous. But BA pressed ahead, launching flights on Airbus A318s, specially adapted for short runway operations, in September 2009. It has been an unmitigated success.
The outbound flight time is 9hr 25min, with the non-stop return taking 7hr 25min. This compares with faster journey times on flights from Heathrow. Passenger feedback, however, suggests that London City's frequent flyers are happy to accept the additional hours in the air in return for avoiding congested Heathrow.
A further bonus is that passengers clear US immigration at Shannon en route to the Big Apple, rather than face the snaking queues at JFK. With a dedicated departure lounge at LCY, 32 seats on board the aircraft reclining to fully-flat beds, a full meal service, and the capability for passengers to send emails and texts from a mobile phone and to connect to the internet, it is hardly surprising the service has been a hit with the business community. BA boss Willie Walsh says: "It's a word of mouth success. London City is a convenient airport for business and we can put on more flights at peak times which we cannot do at Heathrow because of capacity."
Now, BA is planning to extend its reach with flights to Boston, Washington or Chicago. If London City has achieved its aim in terms of access to a growing network of destinations, access to the airport itself was a perennial problem. When it opened 23 years ago, the only way to reach the new gateway from the City was by taxi or shuttle bus from Canary Wharf. The problem was only partially alleviated by the opening of the Limehouse Link road in 1993, which superseded a quaint riverbus connection from London to a nearby quay.
Calls for a Docklands Light railway (DLR) link to the airport went unheeded until 2002, when the government approved the extension. Work started the following year, and in December 2005, DLR services finally ran to a station integral with the airport terminal.
For Richard Gooding, the link has been a landmark in his 15 years as ceo. "It is a masterstroke," he says. "It has allowed London to grow. Today, 50 per cent of our passengers arrive by rail and we have seen a surge in their numbers now we are on the Tube map."
In fact, LCY's relationship with the DLR has been pivotal to both the airport and rail operator's development. "We have been a catalyst in introducing trains to the area and helping the local community," says Gooding. "In addition, connections to North Woolwich have increased our catchment area, and we are looking forward to DLR's launch of a link to Stratford and the 2012 Games site next February."
With bA, Lufthansa and KLm in residence, the three global alliances - Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam - are all represented. As a result, Gooding sees any growth in destinations and frequencies coming from these dominant groupings, rather than an unaffiliated airline.
Proof comes in the shape of a new winter route to Chambery, gateway to the French Alps, which BA subsidiary BA CityFlyer will launch on December 18. It will be operated by an Embraer 190, part of the new generation fleet of comfortable, fuel efficient aircraft the flag carrier operates out of London city.
While the business traveller is the mainstay of the airport's business, leisure travel is particularly important during the leaner summer months. Here, loyalty to LCY is revealed in statistics that show many passengers flying to Europe's sunspots are those who use the gateway for their workaday trips.
Again, they are often the same travellers who use London city's corporate aviation facility. This accounts for 9 per cent of the airport's business and offers a complete package of services to private jet operators, including VIP lounges, and separate immigration and customs.
While it considers itself unique in the airport world, London City does have a role model: its operation is partially based on what Richard Gooding calls the "Dorchester Theory". He explains that for many years, the airport's executives had a suite at the 5-star Dorchester hotel on Park Lane, and its elegant service and range of facilities are still the benchmark for the sophisticated experience passengers enjoy at London's city centre gateway.
LOCATION In Docklands, east London, three miles from canary Wharf and six miles from the city of London. Less than one mile from the ExCeL events centre and two miles from the site of the 2012 Olympic Games.
Docklands Light Railway Frequent DLr trains connect with the London Underground network at bank, Tower Gateway, Shadwell and Canning Town, with the journey time to London City Airport from Bank in the heart of the Square Mile, around 22 minutes.
Taxis London City claims the longest taxi rank in Europe, directly outside the terminal. black cab fares are approximately £12 to Canary Wharf, £20 to the city, £10 to excel, £30 to the West end, and £40 to Bayswater.
Executive shuttle A pre-bookable shuttle bus link and executive share service run between central London and the airport. Prices start at £28. Tel: 0845 095 9595; www.lcyshuttle.co.uk
Car rental Companies with reservations desks at the airport include Avis, Hertz and Europcar.
PARKING Short stay: 0-30 minutes £4; 30 minutes-1hr £8; 1-2hr £12. Main stay: up to 4hrs £14; 4-12hrs £24; 12-24hrs £36; 29-48hrs £72. Each additional 24hrs, or part thereof, £36.
GENERAL ENQUIRIES 020 7646 0088
IN THE TERMINAL Self-service check-in machines, ATMs throughout the airport, Travelex bureau de Change, Nuance tax- and duty-free shopping, WHSmith, and choice of dining outlets. Departure lounge has complimentary wi-fi throughout and laptop plug-in points.