For obvious reasons, many airports use the “London” tag, including Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, City, Southend, Oxford, and Ashford.

Oxford and Ashford are 62 and 74 miles from London respectively.  By comparison, Frankfurt Hahn, the most distant secondary airport for both Ryanair and Wizz Air, is 76 miles from Frankfurt itself.

London City AirportWhat’s in a name?
But you certainly can’t blame the airports or airlines for maximising on awareness and for piggybacking on opportunities.  It just makes sense to capitalise on it, even if it does stretch acceptability.

Of all these “London” airports, it is City that is closest to the City of London, at seven miles. And it is even closer to Canary Wharf, the major financial and business part of London, at four and a half miles.

Not surprisingly, City is overwhelmingly an airport for business travellers, with frequent services to the likes of Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Geneva, Luxembourg, and Zurich.

And, in recent years, to New York.  Not bad for an airport with a sub-5,000-foot runway.  (New York is served via Shannon on outbound services and non-stop inbound.)

Business orientation… and not
City’s business orientation is rightly much capitalised on by the airport, with its “Designed with the business traveller in mind” approach.  Beyond its provided facilities, it is the lack of dwell time and the speed of access and egress that are crucial.

After all, time is money.

City’s unrelenting focus on business travellers clearly results in considerable morning and evening peaks of movements and passengers, with the predictable congestion and longer overall journeys.  And I’ve experienced this a few times myself.

Yet it is increasingly targeting higher-end leisure travellers, such as with services to Florence, Ibiza, Malaga, and Venice, to help reduce the peaks and to spread traffic.

Off-peak services (effectively 1201-1459, on Saturday, and until 1459 Sunday) are actively encouraged with no landing charges.  Premium times (0745-0859, 1745-1859) are charged £1,100.

London City AirportHugely constrained
City is a hugely constrained airport.  This isn’t just in terms of runway length, its STOL nature, and width, or apron space and expansion opportunities.  It’s also because of its opening times: 0630-2230 Mon-Fri; 0630-1300 Saturday; 1230-2230 Sun.  Its annual cap of 120,000 movements isn’t a hindrance, with around half that at present.  Movements in peak-time is more challenging.

In 1997, City handled just over 1m passengers, which grew to about 3 million within ten years.  And it has remained at around 3 million since.

Yet City has big opportunities, and its 2006 Master Plan highlighted development plans to 2030.  This included the possibility of it handling a maximum of eight million passengers without lengthening its runway, adding a second, or extending its opening hours.

Popular but of little value?
Despite City’s location, number of passengers, direct/indirect jobs, and all its other services, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) today (10th April, 2014) said that it creates little value.

“London City Airport creates little value – despite occupying 500,000 square metres at the heart of London, its direct contribution to the UK economy in 2011 was £110m – less than a fifth of the nearby ExCeL Exhibition and Conference Centre.”

It added: “Given our current dire shortage of homes, as well as the UK’s international commitments to cutting its carbon emissions, we must seriously question the logic of locating an airport on precious inner city land.”

“London City Airport places a significant environmental and social burden on neighbouring communities and gives back very little in return.”

Not surprisingly, NEF suggested that the airport be closed.  Of course, this would itself have relatively big consequences, with City suggesting that 2,000 people would be out of work and that it’d remove £750m a year from the economy.

What will happen?  No one knows. The NEF has suggested that if City does close its present passengers could simply use Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, or Stansted.  But this itself is laced with assumptions.  And what of the much reported need for additional airport capacity in Southeast England?  This debate will rumble onwards for many years – as will whether City should close or stay and grow.  The only certainty is uncertainty.

Calls for London City Airport to close

About The Author
- James Pearson is a lecturer in air transport at Buckinghamshire New University, the largest provider of aviation-based undergraduate degrees in Europe. He is currently undertaking a PhD in the airline competitive responses of Asian network airlines within short-haul markets at Loughborough University.