The little airport with big ambitions

The first time Marc Lorenceau flew into London City Airport, the tiny outpost in London's Docklands reminded the Swiss executive of a second world war airfield. Sitting on a dock facing a 19th-century sugar factory, the airport, built on what used to be a cargo loading area for freighters, still has that Biggin Hill feel.

Since City opened 10 years ago, Mr Lorenceau (the president of Addax Petroleum) and others say they have witnessed a radical transformation from the days when just three airlines served it, flying nothing bigger than 30-passenger turboprops.

Travellers these days have access to 18 European destinations offered by 10 airlines flying jets as well as turboprops. Traffic is booming: up 76 per cent in the first seven months, against a rise of less than 10 per cent for European airports on average.

"They've done a tremendous job in expanding," says Chris Tarry, an analyst with Dresdner Kleinwort Benson.

Dermot Desmond, an Irish financier whose investments include Glasgow Celtic football club, bought the airport from Mowlem for pounds 23.5m in 1995.

Mr Desmond's first move was to hire Richard Gooding, Luton Airport's director, with the brief of making City Airport the number one choice for people from the City of London, six miles away.

"I saw the airport as underexploited," says Mr Gooding, 49, managing director since last August. "We had a marvellous location and facility, but not enough people knew about it - neither airlines, nor the travelling public."

In Mr Gooding's 12-month tenure, he has persuaded airlines to add services to six new cities: Edinburgh, Milan, Rome, Turin, Stockholm and Malmo, and he aims to bring on Glasgow and Manchester soon. Among the airlines using City are Air UK, Air France, Lufthansa, Sabena and Crossair.

After logging 727,601 passengers last year, the airport hit the 1 million passenger mark for 1997 this month, with a projected total of 1.2 million passengers for the year.

It is the City crowd he wants to keep coming. Some 73 per cent of the airport's users are business travellers, who can cover the six miles from the City in 15 minutes by taxi, and 20 by shuttle from Liverpool Street.

"Our proportion of business travellers is higher than for any airport in Britain by far," says Mr Gooding, "and that means good yield [revenue per passenger] for airlines. That's the secret of London City."

The problem is that business passengers who pay higher fares also make higher demands, particularly with flight frequencies. And that is one area where London City is already running into difficulties.

Peak-hour slots are already filled, meaning airlines offering new services must settle for landing or take-off times slightly later or earlier than peak hours.

More seriously, the airport is close to running out of expansion capacity. While authorities have set no limits on numbers of passengers allowed, rules on air transport movements (ATMs), the number of planes that may fly in and out, limit capacity to around 1.5 million to 1.8 million passengers.

The airport recently applied to double permitted ATMs to 73,000 from 36,500, without changing the airport's daytime-only hours or allowing noisier or bigger aircraft. The airport should have an answer by October .

Mr Gooding is also working with carriers to market flights as feeders to international flights out of European hubs. Air UK, now fully owned by KLM, flies four times daily to Amsterdam and is about to add a fifth flight.

"We see [flights from London City] as supporting our Amsterdam position and assisting us as feeder and supplier of capacity from the UK," says John Grant, director of Air UK's City business unit.

Aviation experts say that London City could well serve as a model for similar airports.

"I think there is an inevitability about it as major airports become overcrowded and [landing and take-off] slots ever harder to get," says Mr Grant.

In Sheffield, an airport modelled on London City opened recently. There is also Stockholm's Bromma, Florence's Peretola, Belfast City Airport and Tempelhof in Berlin - though the latter is set to be shut in 2002.

Mr Gooding has assumed leadership of a group representing these city- centre airports, to lobby jointly in political and industrial arenas.

"We want to demonstrate that it's not a one-off thing. A group of airports with common characteristics should be taken seriously by politicians and planners" he says.

City centre airports have shorter runways than larger airports, which means aircraft flying into them must descend and ascend at steeper slopes. Noise and emission levels are also a critical concern.

So Mr Gooding is talking to manufacturers as they develop planes to ensure that such aircraft meet the criteria.

"We're interested in talking to manufacturers of 70 to 100-seat aircraft," he says. "If I were talking to them as director of London City I wouldn't have enough clout, but talking to them representing a dozen airports it starts to make a lot more sense."

Mr Gooding will continue to work on adding destinations for travellers. Among those in his sights: Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin and Copenhagen.

"We feel that with around 25 destinations, we would attain critical mass maturity" and that would make European travellers to eastern London see London City as the airport of choice.

"I don't want people to think: 'Can I go there from London City?' I want to them to think: 'I am going there from London City'," he says.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Sport
sport
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Sport
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there