Exactly 30 years ago today, a flight carrying around 40 passengers touched down from Plymouth in East London, between Royal Albert Dock and King George V Dock.
It was the inaugural commercial flight at the first UK airport to be built since WWII: London City Airport. Located in London’s Royal Docks, for centuries a maritime gateway for trade and investment, today the airport supports £11bn of UK trade to Europe each year, enabling journeys to 50 destinations with 12 airlines.
The creation of an airport in East London was a visionary decision. Reg Ward, chief executive of the London Docklands Development Corporation, and Sir Philip Beck, chairman of construction firm John Mowlem & Co, with other allies, built the airport in just 18 months for £34m – remarkable compared to the sluggish planning system and speed of delivery in the UK today.
To fly from London City Airport, work in Canary Wharf, take the DLR, commute along the Jubilee line, or enjoy Stratford’s Olympic Park is to experience the products of a tremendous regeneration which has boosted East London and changed the capital’s gravitational pull. It’s no overstatement to say that in the mid-1980s, London was perceived by many to stop at Bank station. Within the next 10 years, that centre of gravity will have moved to Canary Wharf.
Over 30 years, London City Airport has been an intrinsic part of an East London success story; growing from 133,000 passengers in 1988 to a record-breaking 4.6m in 2016, creating local employment, connecting businesses, and helping the City and Canary Wharf districts to flourish.
As the only London airport actually in London, the UK’s most punctual, purpose-built for business travellers, with an unrivalled location and speedy service, it can offer superb connectivity on the doorstep of a global financial powerhouse.
As I look to my own departure from London City Airport, at the end of this year, there is much reason to be excited about the future of the airport. Construction soon begins on a £400m development programme and the UK’s first digital air traffic control tower – a chance to create an airport for the future. The transformation will help meet demand in London and welcome next generation aircraft, to connect travellers with new markets.
The Brexit decision does however present risks to the aviation industry. Airports and airlines must now face the question of how we will fly and what will be the scale of our operations after 30 March 2019.
This is the time for the industry to continue to make the case to the leaders of both the UK and the EU, that aviation must be the first agreement secured as soon as trade talks commence.
Aviation is intrinsic to how the UK prospers in a post-Brexit world.
In the meantime, it’s business as usual – and business is growing. Demand continues to increase for air travel, and passengers’ expectations continue to evolve.
I predict that a revolution in passenger experience is just around the corner. In the not too distant future, your journey will begin wherever you want it to – check in and deposit your luggage at your hotel, office, or train station. You won’t notice being screened as you pass through security. Your experience will be tailored to you.
An ambitious view of the future, perhaps, but I think that we could all learn from the founders of London City Airport. To think boldly and creatively, embrace innovation and technology, bridge the gap between the private and public sector, and champion London, the world’s greatest city.
A free photography exhibition called London City Airport: 30 Years in Photographs opens today on Jubilee Place in Canary Wharf.