When London City Airport was first conceived by the then chief executive of London Docklands Development Corporation, Reg Ward, in 1981, it was clear to those involved in the planning that the new airport would be a tremendous benefit to the City of London and to executives wanting to get to London for meetings.
In their wildest dreams, however, they probably did not imagine that executives, flying by private jet, would be able to get from their cars to the aircraft in 90 seconds. Arrivals takes about twice the time, i.e. three minutes, which includes clearing UK Border Agency which provides both a customs and entry service.
As London City Jet Centre Manager, Donie Braddick, explains, it has taken years and hard planning to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, including an arrangement with the UK Border Agency, in order to enable such a speedy arrivals and departure process. “We’re the only business aviation airport that is actually in the heart of London, so we designed what we call “the 90 second experience” to capitalise on the fact that we can get you to your City meeting far faster than would be possible from any other London airport,” he comments.
The London City Jet Centre FBO was opened in 2001 as a purpose built facility. “We, which is to say, London City Airport, were being contacted by several executive jet operators who wanted to land business jets in the centre of London, so the FBO was a natural development for us,” he comments.
When London City Airport first opened it had a hair raising 7.5% glideslope, giving it one of the most dramatic approaches in the world. The runway was just 1,080 metres and very little other than a Dash 7 and the Dornier Do 228 could get certified to land. An extended runway, to 1,199 metres, was approved in March 1992 and the glideslope was reduced to 5.5%, which meant more aircraft types could get certified to land. Today about the biggest jets that can get approval to land are Embraer’s Lineage, though no operator has yet requested this, and the Bombardier Global 6000, the first of which recently received approval.
“Getting the Global 6000 certified involved a great deal of work between ourselves, Bombardier and NetJets, the operator. We are now enjoying rotations from the US with that aircraft,” Braddick comments.
As he explains, you can’t just decide to fly in to London City because it happens to suit your schedule. Both the aircraft and the pilot and co-pilot have to be certified specifically for London Airport. “What we are looking for is three completed full-stop landings and departures for a crew to achieve certification. Alternatively we will accept five such landings in a simulator. We do not allow “touch-and-go” landings at London City Airport, both because of the size of the runway and out of respect for residents in the area,” he says.
The Airport operates by agreement with the London Borough of Newham, in whose jurisdiction it lies. While a majority of the residents of Newham were in favour of the original planning application for the airport, Braddick says that the Airport is always very mindful of the need to take the requirements of local residents into account. For this reason the Airport operates a more restricted service, in terms of hours, than other airports. It opens at 06:30 am in the morning and closes at 21:35 pm every night. It is open Saturday morning until 12:30 and then closed for 24 hours reopening on Sunday at 12:30, so operators have to plan their trips around these restrictions.
On the 5.5 degree glide path, Braddick makes the point that aircraft not only need to be certified, they need their avionics modified to allow the aircraft to fly outside the traditional 3 degree approach. “We encourage operators with the appropriate aircraft to get their aircraft London City approved and to get their crews certified as well. All new aircraft coming off the production line today are outfitted with the ability to fly a 5.5 degree glide path so then it is simply a matter of ensuring that the crew are qualified as well,” he comments.
When an operator applies for clearance, Braddick and his team will ask the chief pilot of the operating company to send in his standard operating procedures. We will normally defer to the chief pilot’s idea of what is appropriate by way of training for his crews. We have a huge noise abatement program going on all around us, so we ask to see their noise abatement procedures, and we need to make sure that each aircraft is in strict compliance with the rules laid down by Newham Council,” he comments.
The private jets business at London City has undergone some major shifts since private flights began in 2001. “When we first built the business it was a very different model. At that time we were hosting light and very light jets and some medium sized jets. However, as the recession hit and business aviation generally rotated towards the mid to large cabin aircraft, we had to change our model and move with the times,” Braddick says.
Having started from a base of zero private flights in 2001, traffic picked up rapidly as operators and owners saw the benefits of landing and departing from the heart of London. “By 2007 we were handling 14,000 movements a year in the light and mid range,” Braddick notes. As the mix became dominated by larger jets ramp space became congested. “Where we used to have light jets and turboprops, we now have Falcon 2000s and Challengers, and my ramp space has not changed in size. This means we have to be very efficient about how much time aircraft can park with us – and we have recently increased the ramp size by 30%,” he explains.
There is no hangerage at London City Airport and no maintenance, but all the ramp services are available, including full operations support and catering. “At the FBO we have a full crew room, stocked with everything they would want, including drinks, TV and internet – everything that goes with making crew comfortable for a couple of hours,” Braddick says. There is no “snooze room” yet at the facility, but he reckons that he and his team are looking into this as a further development.
The one thing that you can’t do at London City Airport is bring your pet poodle in with you. The airport is not one of the registered pet entry airports, so no animal can come in to the airport from an international departure point. However, Braddick points out that since 95% of travellers coming into London City’s Jet Centre are business travellers heading for business meetings, the question of pets simply does not arise.
There is a premium to be paid for using London City airport, but as Braddick notes, business and time are what matters to his customers, not a few pounds here or there. “If you can land in the heart of London, why wouldn’t you choose to do so?” he asks.
This year London City Airport anticipates seeing around 6,500 aircraft movements. According to Braddick, some 250 operators around the world have aircraft qualified to fly in to Jet Centre, and the number of transatlantic flights just keeps growing. “We see transatlantic flights coming in for a 9.30 am meeting in the City or at Canary Wharf and going back the same night. The Global approval really sets the trend here,” he concludes.