London City opens consultation on draft master plan that forsees 11 million passengers by 2035 and a continued diversification from its business roots

London City airport last week began a public consultation on a new Draft Master Plan 2020-2035. It sets out how the airport could respond to continued demand for business and leisure air travel, in a sustainable and responsible way, over the next 15 years. This follows a compound 42% increase in passenger numbers at the airport in the last five years, and within the context of London’s rapid growth, especially in East London, where the rate of growth in population, housing, jobs and office space is faster than anywhere else in the city.


Summary:

  • London City airport last week began a public consultation on a new Draft Master Plan 2020-2035.
  • The Master Plan envisages more flights, more leisure passengers, greater sustainability but no infrastructure enhancement beyond the current project;
  • But what the airport really needs is a Crossrail station as otherwise the new rail line will work against it and deliver passengers to Heathrow instead.

The population of London’s urban area (beyond its actual boundaries) is expected to rise above 10 million soon, making it the second most populous such area in Europe after that of Paris. The city’s development is drifting back in favour of the eastern side, where it originally began before spreading to the west, south and north.

That is one key factor in London City’s passenger growth in recent years. In only three years in the last ten has it suffered a traffic downturn and its growth rate this year, at +9.4% from Jan to Apr-2019 is the third highest of the six London area airports after the small and low-cost dominated Southend and Luton. As it is quick to regularly point out, it is the only London area airport that is actually in London.

CHART – London City is among the fastest growing airports in the UK this year with an almost double digit traffic increase for the first four monthsSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and London City Airport and UK Civil Aviation Authority

The airport was designed specifically as a business airport, to satisfy demand from the financial ‘City of London’ (six miles distant) and then from the new financial City that arose around Canary Wharf from the 1990s, which is closer. Better surface transport connections were put in place. It even acquired its own New York flight. But business travel alone is finite and latterly leisure services have been developed for that burgeoning financial sector population, initially to ski destinations.

Now they are attracting residents that live further out in all directions and ‘sun’ destinations have been added. This summer for example British Airways – now by far the largest carrier with over 50% of seat capacity – will offer up to five daily flights to the Spanish island of Ibiza alone. But, it remains very much a Western Europe-focused airport with fractionally less than 90% of capacity there, and with the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Switzerland the countries with most capacity.

A major factor influencing the Master Plan is the GBP1.7 billion re-construction of the Royal Albert Dock, right next to the airport, adding yet another 4.7 million square foot district of offices and living space and visualised below.

Despite its traffic success, not everything has gone the airport’s way. The previous Mayor of London and likely new UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was not a friend because it conflicted with his vision of a Thames Estuary airport but the present Mayor, Sadiq Khan, reversed these decisions and permitted it to be expanded at a cost of GBP500 million.

Notably though, it has so far failed to be included on the 60-mile long but delayed Crossrail line, or Queen Elizabeth Line as it is now known, which will connect east and west London through the City and the West End when it opens in 2020 or 2021. Having a Crossrail station would be a benefit in that City-based passengers could jump on to a fast two or three station journey to London City. The worry is that when it opens it could attract residents and businesses from the area around the airport, the City and the West End (from where it attracts passengers now) to Heathrow, with its vast range of services.

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The Master Plan highlights that the airport will reach its current passenger cap of 6.5 million and 111,000 flights in 2022, based on current trends in the industry and in London. It envisages demand for up to 9.8 million passengers by 2030 and 11 million passengers by 2035, representing 4.3% of the London market at that time. Interestingly, it predicts that by 2035, 64% of passengers will be leisure travellers, and 36% of passengers flying for business purposes.