Thursday, October 25, 2012

Behind the Scenes at London City Airport – Airlines and Operators

Recently I had the pleasure of shadowing staff at London City Airport to see what goes on behind the scenes this at busy Docklands airport in the middle of the city.

In the first post, I shadowed the opening of the airport with the Controllers in the Ops Room. In the second I visited the Ramp Control Team as they monitored and planned each aircraft operation.

In this final post, I talk to Geraldine Nolan, Corporate Communications Support, about the vision, airline operators, and the future of London City.

London City History

London City Airport opened in 1987 on a former dock in the East London borough of Newham. Its location, only six miles from the City and Canary Wharf, was key in that it provided close connections to the heart of London, allowing business travellers to fly to European cities with speed and ease not offered by Heathrow or Gatwick. The development of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), with a station at the airport, also allowed easy access to the city’s transport network.

The airport’s short runway meant only certain aircraft types could operate into the airport, and thus range and passenger capacity were limited. The runway was later extended to 1,500m (4,900ft) and a holding area was added to improve the flow of aircraft. The glideslop to the runway was also reduced to 5.5 degrees (from 7.5), however this is still steep enough to require special certification for pilots and aircraft operating into the airport.

London City Today

Today, London City is still primarily a business airport. Geraldine explains that approximately 65% of passengers travel for this reason. However, 35% are leisure passengers – a figure which has risen recently due to the addition of numerous routes by BA CityFlyer to holiday destinations such as Ibiza and Palma.

The airport is owned by Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), who also own London Gatwick and Edinburgh airports.

The largest aircraft currently certified to fly into London City are the Airbus A318 and Embraer 190. Recently, all stands have been realigned to cope with the E190 as more airlines have introduced it. The A318s, used by British Airways on their twice weekdaily New York JFK route (via Shannon) exclusively use the extended stands at the eastern end of the apron.

The airport’s terminal has been extended and improved over recent years, with a particular emphasis on the needs of its business passengers. As a result, there are no dedicated business lounges (however, a small lounge does exist for the New York

Current operations to around 40 destinations are dominated by BA CityFlyer, who operate EMB170/190, and Saab 2000 aircraft. Other principal carriers include Alitalia CityLiner (EMB175/190), Blue Islands (ATR42), British Airways (A318), CityJet (RJ85/100, F50), Lufthansa Regional (EMB190, Q400), Luxair (Q400), Scot Airways (DO328), Skywork (DO328), Swiss European (RJ85/100).

Estonian Air will also begin a new routes to Tallinn with EMB190 aircraft from March 2013.

A Jet Centre at the western end of the airport handles VIP movements, with its own parking apron for executive jets.

London City Future

The airport today handles around 3 million passengers per year and has worked hard to improve efficiency during peak periods. Geraldine explains “We have around 540 employees at the airport, with a further 1,500 employed at concessions and other businesses on the site.”

The future plan is to extend the airport further, adding more parking stands on piles along the largely redundant King George V Dock. It will remain a single-runway airport, however it is hoped that the airport will attain a capacity of 8 million passengers per year by 2030.

The airport has won numerous awards over recent years, and remains committed to its social responsibility, given its location amongst a built-up area. Its popularity is set to ensure the airport will continue to thrive as it moves forward with its expansion plans.

Behind the Scenes at London City Airport – Ramp Operations

Recently I had the pleasure of shadowing staff at London City Airport to see what goes on behind the scenes this at busy Docklands airport in the middle of the city.

In the first post, I shadowed the opening of the airport with the Controllers in the Ops Room. Now, in this second post we look at what goes on once the airport is open.

Ramp Control

Situated in the Jet Centre, which is a VIP terminal at the western end of the apron, is the Ramp Control team. Here, two controllers and a third member performing admin duties, are on shift at any one time. On my visit, I met Winston and Natasha, who were in the chair in front of a bank of screens and monitors.

The role of the team is to allocate stands to all inbound aircraft, communicate with ramp operators and bus drivers, and the handling agents working for each company.

The bank of screens allows the team to monitor a radar of inbound aircraft, live cameras looking across the ramp, CFMU (showing slot information for inbound and outbound aircraft), Lynx online flight status system (showing where delays occur with each flight), the live arrivals and departures board (which the team updates), and a system allowing them to assign parking stands for each aircraft due that day.

In between describing their role to me, Winston and Natasha were in constant contact with the various operators to keep them updated of inbound aircraft.

Reducing Delays

Winston explained that it is their duty to try to avoid delays. The ramp is split into four sections, and they will try to ensure that two simultaneous aircraft are not assigned to park in the same section, giving ground operators time to avoid loading delays and peak time stress.

The Lynx online system is currently used by all BA CityFlyer aircraft, and is a way of assessing where delays are occurring or expected with each flight. It splits the whole time on the ground into tasks, such as unloading, refuelling, loading bags etc and this gives the team an indication of where efforts need to be improved or assessed. Punctuality statistics are produced by the team every day, showing the previous day’s performance, and sent to management to assess.

Biz Jets

Executive aircraft using London City are usually handled by the Jet Centre, with its own parking apron. However, sometimes large biz jets will be allocated a stand outside the passenger terminal. On the flip side, if a passenger aircraft has a technical problem, it is often moved to the executive ramp while the issue is resolved in order to keep the passenger stands free.

Stand Assignments

London City has 14 stands, and is extremely confined in terms of space due to its location on a former dock. As a result, the Ramp team needs to make sure there is always space for aircraft to park. This is particularly difficult during the morning and evening peak periods, and where necessary they will advise ATC to delay inbounds in order to allow aircraft on the ground to depart.

All of the stands outside the terminal have now been realigned to allow the larger Embraer 190 aircraft to park, which has made it easier to assign aircraft since any aircraft can now use any stand. However, the British Airways Airbus A318 aircraft used on the New York JFK route take two stands out of action for a longer period of time.

Peak Flow

At its peak morning period, London City’s Ramp Control Team will handle around 56 aircraft. There are usually 117 movements per day on weekdays. Most of the time, aircraft have a 30 minute turnaround.

Better Relations

Agents on the ground are encouraged to shadow the Ramp Control Team in the hope of helping them understand the decisions made which affect their work. This is to help improve relations between the two teams, and also improve the performance of the airport.

GOL orders 60 737MAX aircraft

In South America’s biggest single aircraft order ever (at list prices), GOL Linhas Aereas has announced its intention to purchase 60 Boeing 737MAX.

At list prices, Boeing says the order is worth $6bn, though airlines routinely negotiate discounts for larger orders.

GOL’s CEO, Paulo Kakinoff, stated: ”The decision to order Boeing 737 MAX is in line with our commitment to maintaining a modern and safe fleet that will allow us to sustain our competitive advantage in the long term.”

Behind the Scenes at London City Airport – Opening the Airport

Recently I had the pleasure of shadowing staff at London City Airport to see what goes on behind the scenes this at busy Docklands airport in the middle of the city.

In this first post, we look at what goes on immediately prior to opening the airport to aircraft each morning.

Airport Hours

London City Airport is principally a business airport – currently with a 60% dominance over leisure passengers. It is therefore incredibly busy during the early morning hours as people travel out to various European cities, and arrive in to the heart of London. This airport is the only one with a London postcode, and is only a few miles from the skyscrapers around Canary Wharf.

The morning rush hour is generally between 0600-0930, and so it is imperative to inspect the airport prior to its opening to traffic.

 Inspecting the Runway

Upon my arrival at 0530 I met Mia, who is the Controller this morning, and Nick, who is training in the role.

Her first task is to check the weather and any urgent e-mails or messages, and then set off for an inspection of the runway and taxiway lighting. I tagged along to observe.

It was still dark outside, and the ramp was full of airliners being prepared for departure. We drove out to the end of runway 09 to check the approach lighting, followed by a sweep along the runway to check the opposite end. We made a number of passes, checking the side lighting, stopbar lighting, taxiway lighting, and looking out for any FOD (Foreign Object Debris).

During the colder winter months, the team also make sure the whole airport is de-iced. Their responsibility is safety.

These checks are repeated throughout the day, but the first one is vital to ensure the airport is safe to open. Shortly before 6am, we made one last check and then Mia radioed to ATC to declare the runway safe, its water condition, and inform them that they now have control of the airport.

First Departure

Only minutes after this handover, the first departure of the day – Swiss European RJ100 HB-IXN started taxiing to the runway for its departure to Zurich. Moments later, the first arrival also appeared on final approach to runway 27.

Inside the Ops Room

Situated in a corner of the terminal building with quick access to the ramp, the Ops Room is home to a number of key staff who continually monitor the airport throughout the day – responding to incidents, issues arising from any of the daily movements, inspecting the runway, and noise emission checks (London City is surrounded by housing). They also look after permits, vehicle maintenance, wildlife data and and gun licenses for controlling this, and a document library.

One person always sits in the ‘chair’, monitoring a variety of telephones and radio equipment, screens showing live cameras, aircraft radar, weather information, NOTAMS (Notices to Airmen), and live flight details; it really is the hub of keeping this busy airport operating. Whilst the busy period subsides for a few hours, the evening can be just as hectic and a fresh crew take over for this shift during the afternoon.

Every Sunday, when the airfield is closed for the morning, the team will undertake a ‘walking inspection’ of the runway, noting any defects and often dealing with them on the spot where possible. Otherwise, this period is when contractors and workmen are called in to perform any airside repairs and maintenance.

Silver Airways expansion continues

The new darling regional carrier of the southern USA, Silver Airways, has announced further expansion of its route network with new services from Alabama and Mississippi.

These include flights from Greenville, Tupelo, Hattiesburg-Laurel and Meridian, Mississippi, as well as Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).

Since its inception in December 2011, Silver Airways has grown its route network by 60%, adding new destinations to its intra-Florida network, now the largest in the State in terms of the total number of gateways and daily flights, while also opening new hubs in Washington, DC and Atlanta.  At the same time, the company has invested heavily in new technology and equipment, modernizing and upgrading its fleet with the addition of 15 Saab 340Bplus aircraft between December 2011 and September 2012.

(An additional six Saab 340Bplus aircraft will enter the Silver Airways fleet by January 1, 2013.)

“At Silver Airways, we only know one way to do things, and that’s first class,” said CEO Darrell Richardson.  “We’re coming to Mississippi and Alabama on a mission to elevate air travel in the region to new heights.  It all starts on the first of October, and we couldn’t be more excited.”

Round the OneWorld Challenge Completed!

You may remember I wrote about a challenge that was being undertaken by British Airways’ Richard Tams, and Emerald top tier frequent flier Andrew Solum which would see them circumnavigate the globe and travel on every oneworld member airline.

Well, the guys have done it!

Not only did they make every flight and airline, but they also more than reached their target of raising £20,000 for the Comic Relief Flying Start charity. Such a fantastic achievement, and I know they send their thanks to everyone who donated.

Their trip started and ended in New York, with countries visited including Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Spain, Russia, Jordan, United Kingdom, Finland and Germany.

For a good read about their travels on each flight, have a look at their blog here:

Cubana planning Antonov 158 fleet

Cubana is planning to order a fleet of six Antonov AN-158 aircraft.

These will be used on flights from its Havana base to destinations around the Caribbean and into Central America.

The AN-148 is a stretched version of the AN-148. It can seat 99 passengers and has a range of 1,600 miles (2,500km).

It is unclear whether this order is in addition to the three Antonov AN-148s already on order, or whether it is a modification of the original order.

LOT Polish 787 flights in Europe

LOT Polish Airlines has announced a series of intra-European flights on their new Boeing 787 aircraft to aid in crew familiarity.

The first aircraft is due for delivery in November, making LOT the first European airline to take on the Dreamliner.

The European flights are bookable now, and include:

Warsaw – Brussels, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 9th, 10th January 2013
Warsaw – Budapest, 11th-14th January 2013
Warsaw – Frankfurt, 3rd-6th,  9th, 10th January 2013
Warsaw – Hanover, 23rd December 2012 & 4th January 2013
Warsaw – Kiev, 17th, 20th, 27th December 2012
Warsaw – London Heathrow, 22nd, 29th, 31st December 2012, 1st-2nd January 2013.
Warsaw – Munich, 14th-16th, 18th, 19th, 28th December 2012
Warsaw – Prague, 14th-16th, 18th-20th, 28th December 2012 & 2nd, 11th-14th January 2013.
Warsaw – Vienna, 17th, 21st-24th, 27th, 29th, 30th December 2012 & 13th January

Air Canada to launch a low cost carrier

Following the recent announcement that Lufthansa are to launch a new low cost carrier to handle short haul flying, Air Canada have also now announced their intentions to start a new low cost subsidiary to help increase their share on new and existing markets.

Full details, including the name, will be announced in the next few weeks. However, it has been announced already that this new LCC will operate a fleet of 20 reconditioned Boeing 767s and 19 Airbus A319s; both will be sourced from the mainline Air Canada fleet, but will feature additional seating.

This new carrier will target Caribbean, trans-Atlantic and US leisure routes, particularly where Air Canada doesn’t already have a service. However, some existing Air Canada routes will switch over to this new carrier.

Will Lufthansa Start a Low Cost Carrier?

Lufthansa have indicated that they’re looking to start a low-cost airline to handle a portion of their European flying.

The German national carrier has already stated that these European operations are losing money in the order of hundreds of millions per year, which clearly needs to be changed.

A new project, provisionally titled Direct4You has been proposed as a means of returning these operations to profitability and competing against other low-cost carriers on similar routes in Europe.

No mention was given about Germanwings – a German low-cost airline which Lufthansa has a stake in.

British Airways 787 and A380 delivery dates

The CEO of British Airways, Keith Williams, has made an announcement regarding the expected delivery dates of the carrier’s Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

The first of the eight 787s on order will be delivered in May 2013.

The first of the 12 A380s on order will be delivered in July 2013.

This will be a significant year for the carrier as it takes on these new aircraft. I already posted about the expected routes for the aircraft here, but Heathrow is going to be the place to see them for sure next Summer.

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