London City to become even more bizav friendly

 - May 16, 2008, 6:56 AM

Next month London City Airport (LCY) will officially open its purpose-built Jet Centre for business aircraft. One month later it expects to take delivery of a new Falcon 900EX that the airport management will operate in the executive charter market, as well as for the airport’s private owner, Irish entrepreneur Dermot Desmond.

Last year LCY management opted to run the Jet Centre itself rather than award a contract to one of several leading executive aircraft handling groups that had bid to manage the new FBO. According to managing director Richard Gooding, the airport could not accept the bidders’ insistence that it shoulder the investment for the $3.6 million Jet Centre, as well as handling all sales and marketing for the venture.

Dedicated Facility

To run the new facility, LCY hired experienced executive aircraft handler Darren Grover from rival FBO Inflite at London Stansted Airport. Additionally, the Signature Flight Support employees who until last December 1, provided handling for corporate traffic at London City under a contract have all been retained. Gooding maintained that the input of LCY’s new Falcon 900EX flight crew would prove vital in ensuring that the new FBO can deliver exactly what this demanding segment of the airport’s clientele require.

The two-story Jet Centre will house a pair of passenger lounges on the ground floor and a crew lounge and flight-planning area upstairs. Customs and immigration clearance will also be available on site.

Cars will have immediate access to the new building through a security gate on the approach road to the airport. This entrance is before the main terminal building, and thus executive passengers will not get caught up in the arrival and departure traffic for airline passengers. For those who do want to hold meetings at the airport, much more extensive facilities are available at LCY’s well equipped business center, located in the main terminal just a few hundred yards away.

But the Jet Centre’s most important achievement has been to provide almost 95,000 sq ft of additional apron space at the western end of the airport–enough to park at least 20 business jets simultaneously and to offer overnight parking. This new apron became available on March 29.

More Aircraft Parking Space

Previously, lack of aircraft parking space has been one of the biggest impediments to LCY’s ability to accept more business traffic because it simply could not find room on a main apron that is already crowded–in peak hours–by an increasing number of regional airliners. More stands are also being added for scheduled operators.

Another plot of similar-size land is still available to the west of the airport, and Gooding said he would be willing to develop this as further apron space if business aviation demand merits it. Last year LCY handled about 1,500 business aircraft movements, not including training and positioning flights. It expects to see this figure double this year and has targeted a total of 7,000 per annum within three years–almost 8 percent of the approximately 90,000 annual business aviation movements in the London area.

The airport’s busiest period is between 7:45 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. on weekdays. Although slots are in short supply at these times, LCY’s controllers are able to make time for ad hoc corporate movements, such as those of the Shell oil company’s flight department, which operates regular service from the airport.

LCY’s operating hours are 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. from Monday through Friday. Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and Sunday and public holidays from 12:30 p.m. to 9:50 p.m. The airport now receives well in excess of one million scheduled airline passengers each year.

Runway Extension

To further enhance capacity, LCY is set to embark on a $7.3 million investment to increase the landing distance of the single runway by 394 ft to 4,327 ft. In works due to be complete by late next year, the expansion will also create a new holding point at the eastern end of the runway. In the absence of a parallel taxiway, this will allow several aircraft to be “backtracked” down the runway to the apron simultaneously in the gaps between takeoffs and landings.

The modest increase in runway length is largely intended to benefit heavier new-generation regional jets, such as the Embraer 170 and 190. However, it will also provide some extra leeway for business aircraft that have previously struggled to get in and out of LCY.

Securing the necessary approval for LCY’s short runway and 5.5-deg steep approach has proved to be a vexing issue for some business aircraft manufacturers. While the FAA approved the GIV for such steep approaches, Gulfstream has yet to convince the UK CAA that the twinjet can handle the approach into London City.

Gooding argued that the approval process–requiring amendments to both type certification and the operating manuals of individual aircraft–is more straightforward than many have supposed. He said that it is vital for manufacturers to take the lead and urged them to take time to discuss the process with LCY’s operations team before getting bogged down in bureaucracy and costly test flights.

Most Cessna Citations–namely the I, II, V and CitationJet–have now been cleared to use LCY, with the Citation Bravo having recently been approved and the Excel due to join the list this summer. The Bravo took roughly three months to complete the approval process. Other models approved at LCY include the Falcon 10, 50 and 900 series; King Air 200; Piaggio Avanti; MU-2, Piper Navajo and Seneca; and Twin Commander.

Gooding maintained that these types account for roughly 40 percent of business aircraft in Europe. He said Bombardier is now stepping up efforts to have its Learjet and Challenger models cleared to use the convenient gateway to London’s financial district (just six miles from the airport) and the emerging Docklands business district (two miles distant).

New Fee Structure

In July LCY will unveil a new scheme for landing and handling fees, which will be introduced for business aircraft before it is extended to airliners. All existing fees will be bundled into three charging bands broken down simply as small, medium and large aircraft according to passenger capacity, rather than maximum takeoff weight. The single fee will cover all handling services (regardless of whether or not an operator wants them), an as yet unspecified amount of parking time and landing charges.

Gooding acknowledged that the bundled pricing structure may not suit all corporate operators, but argued that overall it is preferable to receiving complex bills with dozens of hard-to-decipher line items. He said LCY expects to charge premium rates for executive handling to reflect its prime location in the London market. Pointing out that the airport occupies prime inner-city real estate, he argued that if the LCY management did not achieve respectable profitability, the facility would likely be acquired by venture capitalists who would demolish it to build luxury apartments.