London City: the capital’s most interesting airport?

A couple of stories about London City Airport, a neat east London gateway for a steadily rising number of business travellers, appeared at the outset of this week that give this editor the chance to get a little nostalgic. It’s a trifle sad, I concede, to have a fondness for airports, but I admit that London City does it for me. And I have to declare that I have edited airport industry titles, for longer than I care to admit to be honest.


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The stories first. My esteemed colleagues across the open plan office that is the Flight Group headquarters got a tip off that London‘s docklands would be a good place to secrete a photographer on Saturday morning who would be interested in a nice scoop. And behold, as Ian Billinghurst’s photos atest, what some call a grown up aircraft (or a mainline jet) – none other than the Airbus A318 – made its first ever approach and landing at London City on Saturday 13th May.


These flights are designed to prove the compatibility of the A318 for commercial flights at London City, which has hitherto solely been the home of regional types like Avro RJs and BAe 146s, ATRs and Bombardier Dash 8s. Even the smallest member of the A320 family at 107 seats will open up new longer range destinations, such as Rome, Madrid and eastern Europe, for London‘s downtown gateway.


This is a far cry from those heady days back in 1987 when the airport was opened. I was there reporting on the first commercial proving flight when London City was trapped in the east end of London, starved of any meaningful public transport and struggling for survival.


Four-engined Dash 7s, operated by carriers like Brymon Airways, were the main visitors, bringing the paltry few zealots who’d discovered that having a taxi pick-up or an obliging driver meant that the airport could be a dream for business travellers. It literally was a 10 minute, or even less, journey from terminal front to aircraft door.


So, it is even more interesting to read that this week has also brought news that the airport’s owner, Irish investor Dermot Desmond, has appointed financial advisors Morgan Stanley to examine an unsolicited offer for the airport. Desmond bought London City, which lost money for years, from developer Mowlem Group in 1995.


Since then the airport has grown substantially. It handled two million passengers last year, a rise of 20% over 2004. A rail link opened in December.


And with the Olympic Games coming to the UK and London in 2012, with the main stadium and Olympic Village located a short distance from the airport, it seems as if the airport is finally coming of age.


Just as long as it keeps those swift check-in and boarding times.

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