London City Airport celebrates 20 years with rapid growth

Image: Panoramic view of docklands
Canary Wharf, the Millennium Dome (now O2 Arena and future Olympic venue) and London City Airport. All once considered failures, now proving the critics wrong. (Source:

Logo: London City AirportWhat may have seemed like the proverbial ‘white elephant’ 20 years ago has in the last two years turned into a major success as traffic at London’s most central airport has soared to well over two million passengers. It may have got off to a slow start as the nearby Canary Wharf complex initially failed to attract many business clients, but this privately-owned airport has benefited in recent years from London regaining its place as the financial centre of the world. In addition, improved access links and certification for new aircraft types has opened the airport up to a wider market.

40% growth in two years

After coming through a period of traffic stagnation, post ‘9/11′ traffic has surged in recent years thanks to a number of new carriers and new routes.

Chart: London City Airport Passenger Traffic 1987 - 2006
Source: UK CAA

This recent success enabled Dermot Desmond, the Irish businessman who bought the airport from its builders Mowlem in 1995 for a modest £23.5 million, to sell it in 2006 for an estimated £750 million, which represents an annual rate of return of some 37%. The new owners, a consortium consisting of AIG, GE Insurance and Credit Suisse clearly want this growth to continue and the early signs in 2007 are good.

Chart: London City Airport Seasonality Profile
Source: UK CAA

Traffic growth in 2007 is currently averaging nearly 20% thanks to new routes and carriers, but also possibly due to the extreme security measures in place at all UK airports, which have made Heathrow in particular a time-consuming airport to use. For time-sensitive business travellers London City is rapidly becoming more appealing.

BA resurrects CityFlyer brand for LCY

BA recently sold off its regional BA Connect operations to Flybe, with one exception. It kept the London City operations and decided to rebrand them as BA CityFlyer, a name previously associated with one of its Gatwick-based subsidiaries.

Apart from existing routes to Edinburgh, Frankfurt and Zurich, BA has this summer added new routes to Glasgow, Madrid and Zurich, having added Milan Malpensa last summer.

Air France develops significant network

Air France through its Dublin-based subsidiary CityJet has grown its network at LCY significantly this summer. A more detailed table showing the new routes and airlines operating to LCY is shown below:

Destination Airline Frequency and start date
Belfast City (George Best) CityJet (Air France) 3 per day from 25 Mar 07
Geneva CityJet (Air France) 3 per day from 09 Apr 07
Glasgow BA CityFlyer 4 per day from 25 Mar 07
Hamburg Lufthansa 2 per day from 29 Oct 06
Madrid BA CityFlyer 2 per day from 29 Oct 06
Madrid CityJet (Air France) 2 per day from 09 Apr 07
Milan Linate AirOne 2 per day from 20 Nov 06
Milan Malpensa BA CityFlyer 1 per day from 02 May 06
Nice CityJet (Air France) 1 per day from 09 Apr 07
Nuremberg Lufthansa 1 per day from 29 Oct 06
Oslo SAS 2 per day from 28 Aug 07
Rome Fiumicino AirOne 2 per day from 12 Jan 07
Stockholm SAS 2 per day from 13 Feb 06
Zurich BA CityFlyer 4 per day from 25 Mar 07
Zurich CityJet (Air France) 3 per day from 09 Apr 07

The airport’s website is currently asking viewers to comment on which of the following possible new routes they would most like to see from the airport. They are Barcelona, Berlin, Helsinki or Vienna. The current top destinations are Edinburgh, Zurich and Amsterdam.

Chart: London City Airport Top Routes in 2006
Source: UK CAA

Zurich (+31%) and Amsterdam (+42%) generated the most additional traffic in 2006, but all routes with the exception of Geneva showed traffic growth. However, not all routes are successful. VLM ceased operating to Liverpool at the end of June 2007 claiming that the route was uneconomic, while services to Bremen operated by OLT ended in 2006.

More aircraft types coming soon?

A combination of four-engined BAe 146s (and its successors) and turboprops are the main aircraft types providing services due to the runway length of just 1,199m. However, the Airbus A318 was recently approved for operations and it seems likely that most of the Embraer jet range could operate into the airport as well. Apparently, a local newspaper misheard the Airbus news and reported that the A380 had been approved for London City operations. No wonder the locals were worried!

Apart from aircraft type restrictions, the airport also has environmental restrictions meaning that operations are limited from 05:30 to 21:30 during weekdays and there are no flights at all between Saturday lunchtime and Sunday lunchtime. In fact, the first weekday departure is not until 06:50 (to Geneva) and the first arrival is also at 06:50 (from Paris).

A318 test flight at London City Airport, 13 May 2006. (Source:

More leisure passengers than you might expect

Image: Canary Wharf

The UK CAA undertook an extensive passenger survey in 2003, which revealed the following facts at that time about the airport’s users:

  • 98% of passengers were terminating at the airport
  • The proportion of leisure passengers had increased from 35% in 2000 to 40% in 2003
  • 45% of passengers arrived by taxi or minicab
  • 40% of UK business passengers travelling on international routes had a trip length of less than 24 hours. This increased to 62% for domestic routes
  • Nearly 50% of UK business passengers were working in banking and finance

The extension of the Docklands Light Railway right up to the airport should reduce the proportion of taxi/minicab users. Canary Wharf is only 14 minutes away and Bank station, which connects with the rest of the London Underground system is just 22 minutes away.


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