LCY’s location draws crowds despite its high parking fees

 - May 8, 2008, 11:51 AM

Location, location, location is the premise on which London City Airport (LCY) has built its new Jet Centre, and it is on the same premise that it will charge business aircraft operators landing and handling fees averaging two to four times those at its nearest
rival FBOs. London City Airport is located just six miles east of the UK capital’s City financial district and two miles east of the Canary Wharf business district, which is increasingly housing major banks and financial institutions.

The new facility has unveiled bundled prices encompassing landing fees and all handling services (except fuel and catering), with higher rates applying between the peak hours of 7:45 a.m. and 9:15 a.m., and 5:45 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. Tariffs are split among three categories of aircraft: small, up to eight metric tons (17,637 lb) in mtow; medium, between eight and 15 metric tons (17,637 lb to 33,069 lb); and large, more than 15 metric tons (33,069) lb.

The first 40 min of parking are included in the handling rates (see box). After that, all aircraft are charged £51 ($77) per hour.

At Biggin Hill Airport, 13 mi southeast of the City, aircraft are still charged on
the basis of their individual mtow. For handling and landing fees combined, a Cessna Citation II (which would fall into London City’s small category) would be charged £176.25 ($265). Comparable rates for a Dassault Falcon 20 (medium category) would be £314.75 ($472) and for a Falcon 50 (large category), £419.50 ($630).

The first two hours of parking are included in the Biggin Hill fees. After that, daily parking rates apply, ranging from around £24 ($36) for a Citation II to £63 ($95) for a Falcon 50. According to Biggin Hill marketing manager Julie Black, several operators using London City reposition their aircraft to Biggin Hill to avoid the steep parking fees.

Average driving times into the City range from around 20 to 40 min from London City and from 45 to 60 min from Biggin Hill. London City Airport managing director Richard Gooding has made no apologies for the inflated fees charged to Jet Centre customers, insisting that a segment of the London-bound business aviation market is willing to pay higher rates for premium access to downtown. He pointed out that local land values have skyrocketed in recent years and that unless the airport makes a decent return for investors it could be replaced by commercial and residential property development.

Gooding also argued that the bundled landing and handling charges are much easier for operators, who find it awkward to administer complex sets of a la carte bills that are often sent to them separately. He said fragmented landing and handling fees based on the individual weights of aircraft types and specific tasks are antiquated and should be abandoned for scheduled airline operations as well.

However, in addition to the convenient location, corporate aircraft operators at London City also benefit from the new purpose-built Jet Centre, with its own entrance and security facilities set away from the main terminal at the southwest end of the airport. The two-story building features passenger and crew lounges, a flight-planning suite, showers, a kitchen, offices and customs/immigration facilities. Foundations have been laid for the premises to be doubled in size, subject to demand. Visiting crews can take advantage of local leisure opportunities, such as water skiing in the surrounding disused docks.

The airport has also built a 92,000-sq-ft apron that can accommodate about 20 aircraft. There are plans to triple this parking space with additional ramps to the north and south of the Jet Centre. This work is provisionally slated to begin in the spring of 2004.

Business aviation traffic at London City is currently growing at a rate of more than 20 percent compared with the same month in the previous year (September was up 28 percent from September last year, when traffic was halted for several days by the terrorist attacks in the U.S.). Overall corporate aircraft movements have increased by more than 250 percent since 1995.

The Jet Centre is currently receiving about 50 to 60 flights each week and its manager, Darren Grover, said this could comfortably be doubled within the facility’s existing capacity. He conceded that the airport does try to discourage corporate flights between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., when there is a rush of regional airline movements.

All Jet Centre employees have been trained in all facets of executive handling. The idea is that any one staff member should be able to complete any task requested by corporate crews or their passengers without having to cause a delay by finding someone else to deal with it. The facility currently has seven full-time employees, and Grover expects to increase this team within the next few months.

The airport has just completed the 394-ft runway extension, increasing landing distance to 4,327 ft. It is also building a new holding area at the east end of the runway.

In the absence of a parallel taxiway, the holding area will allow several aircraft to be “backtracked” down the runway between movements. It should be complete by the end of next year.

The increased landing distance gives some extra latitude to aircraft such as Embraer’s ERJ-135/Legacy that are seeking approval to operate into London City, which is primarily restricted by a steep 5.5-deg approach. To date, individual operators have managed to get approval for the following aircraft types: Citation I, II, V, CitationJet and Bravo; Cessna 421; Dassault Falcon 10, 50 and 900; Raytheon Beech King Air 200; Mitsubishi MU-2; Piaggio Avanti; Partenavia P.68; Piper PA-31 Navajo and PA-34 Seneca; and Commander 690B.

In the past three months, 17 new corporate operators have been approved for the airport, which is already the UK base for Shell Aircraft and one of the bases used by charter operator London Executive Aviation.

Approval Red Tape

In addition to the ERJ-135/ Legacy, approval is also being sought for the Citation Excel and Raytheon Hawker 800XP. The last two types were set to begin operational trials at the end of November and the Legacy has already done so.

However, aircraft operators must themselves get each individual aircraft approved by the civil aviation authority for the country of aircraft registry. According to London City operations manager Gary Hodgetts, there are essentially three phases to this process. First, the aircraft’s flight manual must show that its operating procedures and limitations allow for an approach of at least 5.5 deg. These conditions are not normally found in manuals, so it will usually be necessary for the aircraft manufacturer to make this amendment.

The manual’s procedures and limitations will then need to be approved by the aircraft’s licensing authority (the aviation authority for the aircraft’s country of registry). Individual civil aviation authorities have different ways of conducting this approval process and they may require some flight testing.

Finally, London City itself requires this approval be endorsed by the UK Civil Aviation Authority and that the operator establish that its crewmembers have sufficient experience at making approaches as steep as 5.5 deg.

Earlier this year, Hodgetts acknowledged to AIN that it can be difficult for crews to remain current for steep approaches. He also commented that the approval process for U.S.-registered aircraft has proved to be “very challenging” because the FAA has been reluctant to endorse the necessary flight-manual procedures and limitations, requiring–in some instances–additional abuse case demonstrations. The airport management has been working with the FAA in an attempt to clarify this process.
London City’s operating hours are 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays. Saturday opening hours are 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. On Sundays and public holidays it is restricted to 12:30 p.m. to 9:50 p.m.

No helicopters are permitted to use the airport, which has always had to demonstrate great sensitivity on noise due to the close proximity of local housing and schools. In fact, London still has no heliport at the heart of its business district and has to make do with the facility at Battersea on the south bank of the Thames River, which is about five miles from the City.