London City eyes A318 certification by spring 2007, denies plans for larger Airbuses

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By Victoria Moores in London

London City airport is expecting Airbus A318 steep approach certification by spring 2007, but will not seek other A320 family members.

London City managing director Richard Gooding believes that, although technically possible, A319/A320 approval would not fit with the airport's business model.

The downtown London airport has been working to secure new aircraft type approvals for its 5.5° steep approach, including the A318 which began its approach trials earlier this year.

Although Airbus has declined to place a timescale on the A318 certification, saying only that the trials will take around a year, Gooding said during a media briefing in London that authorisation is expected for around spring 2007.

“The A318 trials were successful, although we might have to do a series of flying trials in the late autumn,” he says.

Further trials are required as the originals were performed with a “noisier” engine, while only a “quieter” variant is planned for certification. Engine options on the A318 comprise two variants of CFM International’s CFM56 and the Pratt & Whitney PW6000.

Air France is Europe’s sole scheduled A318 operator with 13 examples in service.

But before beginning regular A318 operations, the airport would have to upgrade its stand capacity – which is already saturated at peak times. This work would take around nine months to complete, but will not be started until a review of the airport’s ownership has been concluded.

Gooding says: “The A318 doesn’t [physically] fit on our existing stands, so in order to welcome the A318 we need to invest.”

During its annual technical briefing in Toulouse last month, Airbus senior vice president for the A320 family programme Mario Heinen said that London City certification was technically possible for the A319 and A320 although he identified the airport’s infrastructure as a limiting factor.

But Gooding says: “It doesn’t fit with our market. Our market is in 100-seater jets. I don’t believe that our market is right or ready in the foreseeable future. By taking leisure passengers into our peak time operations, the whole model begins to unravel.

“I am not prepared to do that, because the model is right and I have no desire to mess it up. The only motivator for business travellers is not capacity, it is frequency.”

Bombardier’s Q400 turboprop has already been certified and tests are underway on the Embraer E-170, which will be followed by the E-190.

Gooding says: “We were getting to the point where too much of our business was based on aircraft which are no longer in production. It’s about growing up a bit. We are moving away from pure regional jets.

“We are expecting to have [the E-170] cleared for operations at the end of this year, or the beginning of next year at the very latest. [The E-190] is probably a couple of years away, but is on the horizon.”