Are flight-free Saturday afternoons at London/City Airport (LCY) about to become a thing of the past? The potential change forms part of wider proposals which management at the Docklands site say will help meet passenger demand over the coming decade.
The East London facility has launched a ten-week public consultation to gauge the views of those potentially affected by the plans. Arguably the most eye-catching idea is to expand operations into Saturday afternoon and evening, as well as providing “additional flexibility” in the first and last half-hour of daily operations – typically 0630-0700hrs and 2200-2230hrs.
As part of its current licencing rules, LCY must close to scheduled flights between 1300hrs on Saturday and 1230hrs the following day – effectively giving local residents a 24-hours respite from aircraft noise. If the new plans are approved, London City will become a true seven days a week operation, albeit with one notable caveat.
To bolster the likelihood of the changes being given the green light, LCY has given a commitment that only “cleaner, quieter, new generation aircraft”, such as the Airbus A220 and Embraer E2, would be allowed to fly during the new operating periods. While the airport says this will bring forward the introduction of these aircraft to the airport, local residents groups highlight that these jets are often larger than current-generation examples and still generate plenty of noise on approach and take-off.
With its enormous exposure to corporate travel, LCY had a hugely challenging pandemic period which saw the airport close completely during the peak of the crisis in mid-2020. In a revival of fortunes, the Docklands complex says it expects to welcome three million passengers this year and is predicting a return to pre-pandemic levels of five million travellers, potentially as soon as 2024.
The current planning permission for LCY was granted in 2016 by the then secretary of state for transport. This allows the airport to handle up to 6.5 million passengers and 111,000 flights a year. LCY’s own analysis suggests it could surpass this current planning cap by the middle of this decade, and the consultation document hints that numbers could top nine million by 2031 – a figure that could be delivered without any additional infrastructure according to airport management.
Commenting at the launch of the consultation, Robert Sinclair, LCY’s chief executive said: “The strength of our rebound demonstrates the huge pent-up demand for air travel and the need to plan responsibly for the future. Most importantly, following our commitment to be the first net zero airport in London by 2030, these proposals set out how London City and its airlines can meet future demand in a sustainable way. In particular, it will accelerate investment in cleaner, quieter, new generation aircraft, for use in the extended periods, delivering the benefit of quieter aircraft to our local community throughout the whole week.”
Airport bosses insist that the current eight-hour night curfew will remain and additional passenger numbers can be delivered with no additional flights assessed by current annual limits – presumably through the use of larger aircraft. In order to meet its target of achieving 80% of journeys to and from the airport by sustainable transport modes, no additional car parking is proposed as part of the plans.
LCY data forecasts that 2,100 additional jobs will be created, comprising 1,250 directly from the airport’s operation, with a further 850 roles across London through its supply chain. This in turn could provide an equivalent boost to local business productivity of £530m annually, while contributing an extra £750m to London’s wider economy.