London City Airport (LCY) boasts excellent transport links, proximity to a major world class financial centre and is compact enough to soothe even the most apprehensive of traveller. It is also friendly, thanks to its unique layout and the fact that almost half the staff is locally recruited, ensuring a strong local bond. This is reflected in relations with the local authorities, who work closely with the airport even down to ensuring that new, adjacent buildings are carefully sited and contoured to reduce risk of interference with navigation aids. Don Parry reports
The environmental impact of the airport’s operations is also carefully monitored and helicopters are denied access for that reason. All aircraft are parked “nose-out” on the ramp, so there is no requirement for push back and it also makes for an expeditious departure. Airside vehicles have virtually all been converted to electric traction, over a three year period, reducing both emissions and noise. As a further recognition of local sensitivity, the airport closes at 12:30 hours on Saturdays, for 24 hours, under an agreement with local residents. Not only are there no flights, there is no other noise such as ground equipment running or maintenance tasks. Not only is it an environmental success but a commercial success too, according to a study by York Aviation, one of the UK’s leading, specialist, independent air transport consultancies and a leader in airport economic impact assessments, London City Airport directly contributes over £0.5 billion to the economy each year.
Such attributes would appear to be ideal for business aviation and this has been reflected in the construction of a dedicated Jet Centre in a discreet corner of the airport and has the distinction of being the only fixed base operation (FBO) actually in London. It was completed in mid 2002 and has since been upgraded three times, the last being completed just a few months ago. It is a process that has been eased by the modular design of the building, though refinement and improvements are continuous on-going programmes.
Typically, an adjacent, main, gas pipeline isolation valve occupied an area that could be used to extend the ramp. The work to reposition this item was completed at the end of last July. The result being 20% more ramp capacity.
Jet Centre Manager, Donie Braddick, leads a highly experienced team, providing a complete corporate aviation package, including flight planning, weather briefings and landing clearances, slot requests, ground handling, flight watch, cleaning, catering, line maintenance, refuelling, baggage and aircraft handling. Customs and immigration clearance is available also, with pre-clearance by arrangement.
When asked how he would describe the aims of the Centre, he replied without hesitation: “Service, convenience and discretion, all of which are achieved by careful attention to detail.” Attention to detail ensures that passenger wishes and instructions are carefully monitored to ensure that the experience of using the Centre is replicated for every visit. On arrival, the necessary security checks are professional and swift, using the standard airport type of screening arch.
Passengers have a choice of five lounges all with full facilities for office work or just relaxing. Each of these is furnished in different styles to suit passenger preference and to mark corporate identity. The design of the building ensures that all main windows overlook the ramp, a ploy that facilitates a seamless passage through pre-flight checks and procedures, with minimal delay. It is policy that the aircraft are parked as close to the building as possible, prior to departure. It is a combination that gives an effect of immediacy to the situation and enhances a rapid, trouble free departure. Similar facilities are available for arriving passengers.
Acknowledging the status and sensibilities of many passengers, the entry and exit areas from and to the car park, are shielded by opaque, translucent screens to inhibit opportunistic, predatory paparazzi.
The demands and idiosyncrasies of corporate aviation place special demands on crews and it is necessary to ensure that they receive the right standards of service and accommodation. The Centre offers a dedicated crew lounge and a crew briefing station, the latter featuring free computer and Internet access, with full weather brief capability. This is adjacent to the flight operations centre, ensuring optimum liaison at all times.
Operationally, London City is famous for its steep flight paths that require certification of the aircraft, additional pilot training and approval of operators by the airport. In practice, this means that an aircraft must demonstrate proficiency in the 5.5 degree approach and must be able to operate from the airport’s short runway of 4,327ft (1,320m) for landing and 3,937ft (1,200m) for takeoff.
New types are continually applying for the necessary approval. Last year the Gulfstream G150 received clearance, offering passengers the advantages of long range and high speed, easily connecting cities such as New York to Los Angeles, London to Moscow or Rio de Janeiro to Santiago.
More recently, Dassault brought a Falcon 2000 to carry out evaluation flights in order to gain approval. Dassault took the opportunity to demonstrate a new auto brake feature that reduces the landing distance of the Falcon series, allowing greater ease of operation into limiting runways. It is said to offer an advantage of some 150ft in landing distance, a very useful performance consideration.
For aircraft that do not yet meet these additional requirements, it is still possible to enjoy the services and handling, offered by the Jet Centre, by using Northolt Jet Centre, at RAF Northolt. This is an extension of London City Airport Jet Centre, providing a convenient gateway to north and west London, including the Thames Valley. With a 5,525ft (1,684m) runway Northolt can cope with a wide range of corporate aircraft, up to and including Boeing and Airbus business jets, with a maximum capacity of 30 seats. Helicopters are also accepted.
Northolt Jet Centre Premier Passenger Service is managed by London City Airport Jet Centre Ltd. All handling and security staff are employed by London City Airport Jet Centre Ltd and the terminal is shared with the Royal Air Force.
From April 1, 2011, Northolt Jet Centre has introduced a “one stop” booking and coordination service on behalf of the Royal Air Force for all aspects of business aviation at RAF Northolt. Northolt PPS will now manage all the visiting aircraft operator’s needs; from their initial enquiry through to their slot booking, ground and passenger handling requirements – ensuring a streamlined and professional service throughout.
Braddick comments: “I am delighted to take over management of the airport slot coordination function at RAF Northolt to provide passengers with a single point of contact, ensuring their journey is seamless and stress-free. Whilst the RAF will still have full operation control of their airbase, with our experience and expertise, passengers and crews can expect continued impeccable quality and bespoke customer service tailored to their specific requirements. London City Airport’s investment at RAF Northolt has included a recent refurbishment of the crew and passenger facilities to compliment our improved service”.
General aviation movements at London City are expected to be in the region of 8,500 for the current year and there is much anticipation regarding the forthcoming Olympic Games, to be held in 2012.
London City Airport will now see an increase in the number of flights, following a High Court rejection, last January, of a plea by a residents group aimed at halting expansion. The decision upholds planning approval granted by the London Borough of Newham, in July 2009, to increase the annual number of flight movements at London City Airport to 120,000.
When asked about future plans, Braddick says: “The future is all about driving the customer service through 2011 to the Olympic Year of 2012. No redevelopment plans for the Jet Centre are planned for the next 18 months. The current building, staff numbers and infrastructure are more than capable of dealing with the anticipated traffic during the Olympics. So, for me, it’s just about recognising that London City is a prime location for Olympic landing traffic; it’s a matter of being ready and delivering good customer service.”