The debate about airport capacity in the UK has been dominated by the two giants of Heathrow and Gatwick. Vital as this decision is, it shouldn’t drown out the pressing need to make the most of existing infrastructure assets, including the popular and efficient little airport that sits in the Thames to the east of Canary Wharf.
Last year, 4.2m people travelled through London City Airport. This makes it a minnow alongside its cousins in the south east of England, but for the millions of people who use the east London airport every year, the experience is often the same: no queues, fast service, convenient flights.
Whether dashing around the UK, nipping off to Zurich or hopping the Atlantic, it’s an airport beloved by City workers, with nearly two-thirds of its passengers being on business.
It’s also just been sold – for around £2bn – to a consortium that includes Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and Borealis Infrastructure. The price tag has already attracted criticism from airline operators who fear it could only be justified by raising airport fees.
As we’ve previously reported, major carriers have threatened to pull out if charges go up, and the airport’s new owners should consider such calls very carefully indeed. A more pressing concern is the hold up, courtesy of Boris Johnson, that prevents the airport from expanding.
Plans to expand the terminal, build seven new stands and a larger taxiway to accommodate bigger, quieter aircraft were backed by Newham council this time last year but subsequently blocked by the mayor of London.
This newspaper understands that the mayor came to the view that he couldn’t be seen to oppose expansion to the west of the capital while backing it in the east. So, he changed his mind and is now leading the charge against a project that would boost London’s connectivity, create jobs and go a modest way towards easing the pressure on the south east’s other major airports.
Boris was advised to back the plans by his own planning team, but chose not to. The decision will be elevated to the secretaries of state for local government and transport, with a decision expected by the autumn.
The airport is ready to expand and the capital will benefit if it does. Let’s hope the ministers make a better decision than the mayor.