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Article from TNU DECEMBER 2023

+ Sinclair jumps ship at London City

Struggling London City Airport (LCY) is looking for a new boss.  

CEO Robert Sinclair is stepping down at LCY to join High Speed One Ltd (HS1), the privately-owned rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel. All this will happen into the New Year. At HS1 his target will be to re-establish the Ashford Station stop on Eurostar, closed at the start of the pandemic and still not open. Ebbsfleet International also does not function at this point in time.

Sinclair, a New Zealander, joined LCY at the back end of 2017 taking over from Declan Collier, now Chairman of George Best Belfast City Airport (and DfT's Office of Road and Rail plus others). Rob was previously at Bristol Airport, and was unsuccessful in obtaining a link to the M5, which is still desperately needed.

Figures published by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) show that LCY is the only important gateway to the UK not to be back to pre-Covid levels, passenger numbers up to 30% less despite being immensely popular with users and the airport award winning. The September numbers, as made public last Friday, show a loss of 5% over the same month in 2022, the only important British airport not to improve on last year.  These worrying figures have been put down to problems associated with the nearby Canary Wharf commercial district and main operator British Airways CityFlyer reducing its Embraer aircraft fleet from 24 to 20.  There is no cargo business and executive jet operations are very constrained despite the airport’s tremendous location.  

In 2019 LCY moved a record five million plus passengers.  For 2023 it may just top three million.

The airport is owned by a consortium of Canadian pension funds and Kuwait's sovereign wealth fund.  It has also been announced that Chairman Rob Holden is stepping down, replaced by Mel Ewell, an existing Director.  

The present owners purchased LCY in 2016 for a reported £2.3bn and since that time invested at least £600m in a much-needed parallel taxiway and larger apron.  A planned major terminal extension has been suspended.

In the past a great supporter of the airport, Newham Council recently turned down by 4-0 planning permission for a very limited expansion of the opening hours, greeted with glee by the Green Party who would see the airport shut.  LCY has appealed.  

LCY suffers from the lack of a link for the Elizabeth Line, which runs under the airport and passes the site of Silvertown for London City station, closed in 2008 when the Crossrail took over the existing North London Line trackway.  Collier campaigned for the station, opposed by the then Chairman Sir Terry Morgan, previously Chair of Crossrail.  Sinclair until recent times has also taken a negative approach. A simple station can still be built. Quickly feasible is an electric bus service to the Custom House/Excel Elizabeth Line station.  Sadiq Khan Mayor of London has reputably never visited the airport, or surrounding area.  The DLR serves the airport and is used by around 50% of passengers.  

Malcolm Ginsberg, Editor-in-Chief of Travel News Update, has been involved with the airport since its very concept, and wrote the definitive history of the airport (London City Airport – 30 Years Serving the Capital) and is critical of the management approach in recent times.  

“The planning permission authorisation got it wrong.  The much bigger runway expansion was passed by a sympathetic local council in 2016, well supported by the local population.  Fortunately, the work was too far advanced for it to be stopped when Covid broke out.

“Other than British Airways steadfast support for the airport, 50% of all passengers are BA, there has been no crucial service increases or introduction by other carriers.  Typically, Munich is still lost.  BA itself is in a dilemma.  Does it continue with current profitable but aging aircraft, or invest with new Airbus or Embraer planes, quieter, with more capacity and passenger facilities, and longer range?  Athens, Cairo, Istanbul and Tel Aviv could be added.  And New York again is still a possibility.  On the commercial front a much more aggressive and forward-looking approach is required.  

The good news for LCY is that the Embraer 195 – E2 with its remarkable environmental attributes, much longer range and up to 36% more capacity if British Airways were to order has been finally certificated for the airport.  It has the range to make the Gulf States, and airports such as Istanbul and Tel Aviv, not yet London City destinations.  The competing Airbus A220, 2+3 rather than 2+2, is already certificated and in a demonstration flight operated non-stop to JFK New York.

The new leader has a splendid undertaking on which to build.  The present owners need to back that person or get out!”

The CAA stats for September




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All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 200 words maximum

David Starkie, United Kingdom

Given the juxtaposition of airport and Elizabeth line, clearly seen in this excellent photo (is it yours Malcolm?) it is astonishing that no station was planned and built.

John Jones, West Ham

London City Airport works well. It is a pity that Mayor Khan does not support it. A high profile visit would do wonders.

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