Business Travel Show Europe Kick Off, 23 February,
Global Travel Risk Summit Europe, April 2023,
3rd Annual Sustainable Business Travel Summit
O N T O U R: British Airways and London City Airport
British Airways has been involved in London City Airport much longer than people imagine. Without BA London City Airport would probably not exist today.
Back in 1983 Brymon Airways was in serious financial trouble. The tiny Plymouth-based carrier had headed the UK certification of the de Havilland Canada Dash 7, a four-engined 50-seat turboprop capable of landing and taking off, each in less than than 650 yards. The aircraft”s introduction in 1981 had led to a lucrative contract assisting North Sea oil support operations in the far north of Scotland and the linking of Plymouth to London by air for the first time with a serious operation. The aircraft”s performance had also attracted the London Dockland Development Corporation (LDDC), its very forward looking chief executive Reg Ward, and contractors John Mowlem Plc. The LDDC and Mowlem saw the Dash 7 as a way to establish a STOL (short take-off and landing) airport on a disused wharf in the docklands. On Sunday, 27 June 1982, captained by the late Harry Gee, a Brymon Dash 7 landed at Herons Quay, now part of the massive Canary Wharf development.
The strain on a very small airline introducing a new aircraft on to the British register and pushing ahead with what would become the first all-new British airport since Heathrow in 1946 was enormous. At the end of 1983 Brymon did not have the financial muscle to move forward and new executive chairman Charles Stuart, a former board member and marketing chief at British Airways, was searching around for investors. Further finance was sought, and in a move that proved to be far sighted and financially beneficial, he persuaded the then Colin Marshall, to take a small stake in Brymon on behalf of British Airways. Without that investment it is questionable whether London City Airport (named after City of London School for Girls where Stuart”s wife Anne had been a pupil) would have got off the ground. Just another good idea sunk in politics and paperwork.
As they say the rest is history, with London City Airport, sited in the Royal Docks, officially opened by the Queen on 7 November 1987. By this time Brymon was operating what was probably, although it was not called it at the time, the world”s first code share, a partnership with Air France. Today AF is the only airline to have continuously, without a break, served London City since its start.
By that time Michael Bishop had got into the act with his short-lived Eurocity Express and then renamed London City Airways and it was not long before Moritz Suter, a one time pilot and boss of Crossair, was introducing services to Zurich. By 1988 British Aerospace was conducting trials with the 146 jet at LCY. Larger, faster and with far more range.
At the end of March 1992, for the summer programme, the BAe 146 had arrived in Crossair livery, later followed by the more advanced but very similar AVRO RJ.
Sadly by that time Brymon was no longer involved with London City. Stuart had retired (he suffered a fatal heart attack in May 1993 followed very quickly by the death of his mentor Sir Roy Watts, the man who had created British Airways as we know it today) and the new board at the airline was much more interested in developing a hub at Bristol.
The first official British Airways operation into London City airport was a somewhat half hearted effort for the winter season 1999/2000 with a BAe Jetstream 41 operating to Sheffield City Airport, rather like the more successful Belfast City Airport, an operation for which the Dockland operation was the precursor.
In 1987 public transport access to London City Airport was limited. In a bid to get over the problem Mowlem organised a novel boat and coach service from Charing Cross Pier which was popular with some. The local bus called by from time to time and taxi drivers were offered a free breakfast as they waited for the occasional passenger. The road network towards the City was, to say the least, minimal, and whilst the North Circular/A406 was quickly finished down to the A13, finding your way to the airport meant driving through a housing estate under construction. For six weeks the airport closed as NATS found they could not cope with the extra aircraft movements the operation generated! None of this helped the airport or its pioneering airlines in its early days. London City Airways folded on 31 March 1990. The only other carrier to show any interest was Flexair, the forerunner of VLM (currently the airport”s largest operator in terms of aircraft movements) who soon came in with a Dornier 228 16-seat twin turboprop service to Rotterdam. On a cold, wet foggy day you had to be brave to take the trip.
London City Airport”s runway was originally built to a length of 760m. Even the shortest regional airport has a runway length of getting on for 2000m. The secret of the operation was a much steeper approach by aircraft to the runway at both ends, 7.5 degrees, and a very short taxiing distance from apron to take-off. As the originators believed, once the airport got under way local opposition melted away and their plans for an extension soon went public. A further planning enquiry authorised an extension to 1199m, and the acceptance of a 5.5 degree glidepath, which the 146 could manage. For the summer programme of 1993 Crossair was operating its Jumboliner (the Swiss branding of the ubiquitous 146 and its variants) with services to Zurich. By this time the Limehouse Link had been completed, as well as the road network to the east of the airport. Canary Wharf was filling up. From 250,000 passengers in 1993 the airport has quickly expanded with 1.6m passengers using it in 2002, a figure likely to be easily passed this year. The airport has a thriving business jet operation capable of aircraft as large as the Gulfstream G5. It is the only airport in the country to operate its own aircraft, a Dassault Falcon 900EX, available for charter and capable of crossing the Atlantic.
For the summer programme of 2003 London City Airport”s nine resident airlines will serve 21 destinations. In early 2005 the Dockland Light Railway will have been completed to the airport, the aircraft parking extended, and a new holding area at the eastern end of the runway constructed to allow for 40 movements an hour to be a realistic target.
Even allowing for the somewhat alarming current economic outlook it looks like British Airways have got it right with one of the highest profile launches it has attempted in recent times. The routes to Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt are proven successes crying out for competition. Glasgow is not linked to City. However the parallel Scot Airways Edinburgh service is currently offering an astonishing 14 return trips daily. London City Airport is well known to Scottish travellers. They appreciate how far west of the city Heathrow is, and the distance involved getting to Stansted in Essex. Unlike BA”s Brymon enterprise of 15 years ago, today London City Airport has a real profile and is a major gateway into London. It is a small friendly operation that is serving the business community well. The events at Stansted will really help the airport. There is a real buzz about the place. An Olympic bid featuring the airport, the Royal Docks and Excel would be real icing on the cake.