Long-haul potential – London City Airport and the A220

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Nick Preston, General Manager, Aircraft Analytics, visited LCY to meet with its Aviation Director, Peter Downes and to discuss his aims for future network growth, including the potential new markets offered by the performance of the A220 from the central London airport.

London city airport (LCY) has enjoyed consistent and significant increases in passenger traffic in recent years. Its location at the heart of the UK capital offers clear advantages in terms of traveller demand, but also brings with it a set of unique operational challenges. In 2016 the airport received planning permission for its City Airport Development Programme (CADP) as it seeks to maximise its infrastructure potential. These works will better equip LCY to benefit from the latest in new aircraft technology, allowing it to handle more next-generation types in the large regional/small narrow-body segment, such as the A220. Nick Preston, General Manager, Aircraft Analytics, visited LCY to meet with its Aviation Director, Peter Downes and to discuss his aims for future network growth, including the potential new markets offered by the performance of the A220 from the central London airport.

Passenger growth and development program

“In 2018 we welcomed just over 4.8 million passengers, which is a record volume, explains Downes. “We believe this demonstrates a continuing growth in demand for the fairly unique service we provide. Over the five years since 2013 we saw a 42% increase in passenger volumes. In 2019 we expect to exceed five million passengers for the first time in a calendar year, driven by demand from the local area. This is due to the growth in population, housing and businesses in East London. That growth keeps us heading towards our capacity cap which currently stands at 6.5 million passengers per year.” Between 5 August 2018 and 6 August 2019 LCY welcomed more than five million passengers for the first time in any 365 day period.

“Work on the £500 million plus CADP is already underway and will create a world class gateway for London, continues Downes. “From 2022 customers will have a completely new airport experience. The terminal will be four times the size, and there will be new stands and an additional taxiway. The taxiway will be built in increments but will eventually become a full-length parallel taxiway.

“Larger stands are critical to the process of accommodating the latest generation of jet aircraft. We have 18 stands in total today of which 14 are contact stands and four are remote. Only four of these 18 stands are Code C and therefore capable of accommodating A220-size aircraft. After the development we’ll have 25 stands, of which 10 will be Code C.

“We currently have a number of Airport Coordination Limited-declared slot constraints around the number of aircraft movements in a five- and 15-minute rolling period, which are essentially linked to the runway backtracking requirements, and the related sequencing of arrivals and departures. The taxiway extensions will reduce and eventually eliminate backtracking requirements. Once we have additional stands, we will be able to increase runway movements from 40 to 45 per hour.

“Clearly going from four to 10 Code C stands will be very significant for us in terms of delivering a step change in the number of larger next-generation jets. This could lead to a scenario whereby up to 20 of our 45 movements per hour are operated by larger jets like the A220-100.”

Operational challenges

“This airport has been built and grown around a difficult operating environment,” says Downes. “The fact that the first quarter of 2019 saw a 9.0% year-on-year increase in passengers demonstrates that we continue to deliver growth, despite these constraints.

“The key operational challenges are related to our urban setting and the length of the runway. Since we are less than six miles from the City of London, we have a 5.5-degree steep approach requirement versus a typical approach slope of 3.0 degrees. This is because of the airport’s proximity to tall buildings and the benefits that a steeper angle affords in terms of noise reduction, for nearby homes and businesses. This means aircraft must be steep-approach capable and steep-approach certified to operate from LCY. The configurations or procedures involved in meeting these requirements vary by manufacturer. Pilots must also receive specific training and certification before they are signed off to operate at the airport.

“By large airport standards, the LCY runway is relatively short. The take-off run available (TORA) is 1,199 metres (3,934 feet). The paved surface is just over 1,500 metres (4,921 feet). We work very closely with manufacturers to form a partnership during the certification process that ensures aircraft are compatible. This included working with Bombardier and then Airbus on the A220. We work with manufacturers to ensure, not just that an aircraft is compatible and certified, but that its performance is optimised. It is important to us that carriers which order a certain aircraft type for operations at LCY can achieve the optimum possible payload performance under all conditions. That is really a three-party working relationship that involves sharing information and best practices to ensure those enhancements are delivered.”

A220 and longer sectors

British Airways (BA) has offered an all-premium, A318-operated service from LCY to New York JFK (JFK) since September 2009, but despite only be configured with 32 lie-flat seats, performance restrictions necessitate a technical stop at Shannon on the westbound sector. “The longest direct inbound sector currently serving LCY is JFK with the BA A318, but the longest outbound is Santorini (JTR), which is 1,627 miles (1,414 nautical miles)”, explains Downes.

“We are seeing an ever-increasing average sector length from the airport. If you look at some of the routes we have added this year, like Vilnius for example, we’re seeing sector lengths that would not have been considered feasible a decade ago. Other routes introduced over the last few years such as Split in Croatia, Lisbon and the Greek islands, represent ever increasing sector lengths on which aircraft are operating with viable payloads from our runway.”

LCY is keen to extend its reach even further and sees the A220 as one aircraft that can help it achieve this goal. “The A220-100 is the largest aircraft operating from LCY in terms of capacity, with SWISS aircraft configured with 125 seats,” explains Downes.

The A220 family includes the A220-100 and the larger A220-300. The smaller of the two variants is the only family member certified for the steep approach requirements necessary for operating at LCY. Airbus confirmed that there are no plans to certify the A220-300 for LCY steep approach operations. The manufacturer believes the A220-100 is the right size aircraft to operate out of LCY and explained that steep approach capability is an option offered to operators of the type. The aircraft requires an avionics option to permit it to fly steep approach procedures, but no physical or structural modifications are necessary.

Airbus informed Aircraft Analytics that the A220 was designed with LCY’s operational restrictions in mind and that the A220-100 is capable of operating longer-range routes from short runways because of its optimal thrust-to-weight ratio and high lift devices.

“The A220 offers the opportunity to unlock greater value on 1,000-2,000 nautical mile (nm) sectors,” continues Downes. “We know that longer routes within this segment can be very commercially valuable for airlines. You could, for example, operate to the Greek islands, parts of Scandinavia like Helsinki, places like the Canary Islands and Malta. We do offer some of these routes now, but they suffer from small payload restrictions to varying degrees. There’s a lot of value in being able to unlock full payload capability on this type of route for airlines, as well as the potential to serve new routes in the 1,000-2,000 nm range, potentially to places like Moscow. That dovetails quite nicely as a commercial strategy in terms of where we now are as an airport, regarding our business and premium leisure split. We now have virtually a 50-50 split between business and leisure traffic which tends to surprise people who see London City as more of a business airport. It’s increasingly about business and leisure in combination and I think the next-generation jets will help us with the aim of adding more premium leisure markets, like the Canary Islands and Cyprus, which are just too challenging range-wise for the existing aircraft.”

Airbus provided Aircraft Analytics with caveated data specifying that, in certain conditions with certain operating assumptions in place, an A220-100 configured in a two-class configuration with 116 seats could operate sectors of up to 2,000nm from LCY. This would cover destinations across the whole of Europe, parts of North Africa and as far east as Moscow and Sochi in Russia.

Premium long-haul

But both airport and manufacturer have longer-haul ambitions for the A220 at LCY. “We are very confident that we could see the A220-100 offering premium non-stop transatlantic services, which would be game-changing for LCY and is one of the very significant areas we think this aircraft could open up for us,” says Downes.

Airbus confirms that, in a customised, all-business class configuration, the A220-100 could carry 3.6 tons of payload on sector lengths of up to 4,000nm from LCY. Great Circle Mapper indicates that the great circle distance between LCY and JFK is 3,017nm.

“The Gulf hubs could also be an all-business configuration operation, given that we’re talking about six hour 3,000nm plus sectors,” adds Downes. “The new Istanbul Airport is very interesting to us too. There’s a secondary consideration that the right airlines need to order the right aircraft to serve these individual markets, but we see the new Istanbul Airport as strategically in the right location to open up global connections. It’s a 1,500nm sector that could be operated in an orthodox configuration. There’s no question that we see lots of potential going East as well as West.”

Environmental benefits

In addition to the obvious commercial opportunities the A220 could offer airports like LCY, it will also bring environmental benefits. “We know that the A220 is one of the quietest commercial aircraft in its class,” says Downes. “Next-generation jets are essential for maintaining and eventually reducing noise contours around the airport. With the number of local residents expanding significantly with the regeneration of East London, it’s very important for us to be a good neighbour and these next-generation jets are key to doing that.

Data recorded by LCY’s noise monitors shows that A220s operated by SWISS averaged 84.3 effective perceived noise in decibels (EPNdB) on departure in 2018 and 83.3 EPNdB on arrival. In contrast, the RJ100, which the A220 replaced on SWISS services, averaged 91.5 EPNdB on departure, making the A220 around 7dB quieter on departure than its predecessor.

Airbus informed Aircraft Analytics that the A220 easily meets the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) Chapter 4 Noise Standard with a significant margin of 18 EPNdB to the accepted noise threshold. It added that, as a manufacturer, it is committed to reducing the perceived noise of flying aircraft by 65% of 2005 levels by 2050.

Other next-generation types

The increase in average sector lengths from LCY in recent years is largely the result of BA CityFlyer deploying its first-generation Embraer E-Jets on longer routes. In addition to the A220, Downes sees potential for the second-generation of E-Jets to make an impact on LCY’s potential route map.

“The E190 E2 steep approach certification process is well advanced and we expect it to be completed in the next 12 months. Helvetic Airways has 12 E190 E2s on order and it’s no secret that LCY operations were a key element of its decision making when selecting its new fleet. There are other E190 E2 operators that we would look to target as well. We are also looking at whether there is an opportunity to get the E195 E2 certified for LCY operations, but that’s obviously very much in the hands of Embraer, and at this point in time that variant is still going through the initial process of gaining its type certificate from the regulating authorities. It will need to complete that process before Embraer can turn its attention to which new aircraft might be certified for LCY. That decision might also depend on the potential level of demand from airlines.”

One current LCY operator which recently announced its interest in the E195 E2 is KLM, with press reports indicating that it signed a letter of intent for 15 aircraft at the Paris Air Show. The Dutch flag carrier’s KLM Cityhopper subsidiary currently operates into LCY with first generation E190s.

“It’s an open ended question in terms of which types might be certified for LCY operations after the E190 E2, but we have some really strong fundamental relationships in place with the manufacturers and with the airlines that allow us to be flexible and move in the direction that demand dictates,” continues Downes. “We want to certify aircraft that can maximise the efficiency and utilisation of our airport assets. At the same time, we keep a keen eye on the environmental impact of the types we are certifying. We aim to deliver growth that is balanced in terms of noise impact and broader environmental performance.”

Peter Downes, Aviation Director, London City Airport


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One response to “Long-haul potential – London City Airport and the A220”

  1. Tobias Rückerl says:

    It will be very interesting to see, how regional jet sized aircraft will developed into mid- to long-haul alternatives for weaker or specialized routes. I could imagine to see A220-100s in a full C- or F-class configuration flying from LCY over the pond, into MENA, DXB etc.
    The A220-300 has this potential already and Air Baltic is using it successfully.

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