Protestors tie themselves to plane at London City

Protesters from the group Plane Stupid have been at it again, this time targeting the corporate world of private air travel by causing disruption at London City Airport.

On Wed 10 June, four women and one man managed to break into the airport’s grounds at 2.30am using bolt cutters. They were dressed up as businessmen in bowler hats and suits, and they somehow managed to chain themselves to the wheel of a private jet.

The group made a human wheel clamp around the wheel of their chosen plane, and had to be cut off by police who arrived four minutes later. They were then arrested, and a spokeswoman for the airport said that they expect “arrests for criminal damage and breaking and entering”.

This is of course not the first time the group has managed to cause mayhem at the UK’s airports. 50 of the group protested at Stansted Airport in December and managed to force the closure of the runway for a while.

One thing that is so incredible about all this is how easy they find it break into these airports. Nancy Birch, the spokeswoman for the group, claimed the airport was a “major terrorist target”, but that “getting into it was child’s play.” This is a worrying fact by itself, and perhaps the group is actually doing the airports a favour by helping them to increase their security measures.

The reason behind the protest was to highlight the fact that private jets are far worse for the environment per passenger than commercial planes, and the group believe that they should be stopped altogether.

In terms of actual disruption, however, the protest was not entirely effective. A spokeswoman for the airport said that there had only been a “slight delay” to the schedule as a result.

London City gets new Newquay route

Next month, business people and travellers from the south west of the country will be provided with a direct route to the very heart of London. A new service has just been announced by Air Southwest that will provide a route from Newquay to London City via Plymouth twice a day, and it is set to be launched on April 20.

The aim is to open up London’s financial areas to the south west, providing by far the quickest way of travelling to and from the heart of the capital (or vice versa) in a day.

The main aim is to provide a route for business travellers. Richard Gooding, the chief executive of London City Airport, said that the new route will provide an “obvious choice for the business traveller” because of the airport’s location near Canary Wharf and the easy connections throughout the south east.

The Dash 8-300 aircraft, which has room for 50 passengers, will leave Newquay at 7.45am and arrive in London at 9.30am, returning at 7.05pm. In the other direction, it will leave London City at 9.55am, arriving in Plymouth at 11.05am before heading on to Newquay.

And despite being for business passengers, the flight is not going to break the bank. The £29 tickets (each way) represent one of the cheapest ways to make the journey to London, and the 15-minute check-in time is great for people in a rush.

The managing director at Air Southwest, Peter Davies, said that the route would “revolutionise” travel between the south west and London.

City Airport crash landing

For the superstitious amongst us, it may come as no surprise to learn of a “hard landing” last Friday – the 13th of Feb. At around 8.00pm, a BA plane coming from Amsterdam suffered a collapse of its nose wheel and crash landed at London City Airport.

All 67 passengers and 4 crew members were evacuated safely using the emergency chutes, although there were minor cuts and scrapes as people hit the tarmac. According to one eye witness, passengers had remained calm until the plane started filling with smoke, at which point people became agitated at the time it was taking to evacuate.

Ambulances and other emergency response vehicles and personnel were quick to arrive at the scene and two people were taken to hospital with minor injuries. As a result of the incident, eleven flights due to arrive at City Airport that night had to be diverted: eight to Stansted, one to Southend, one to London Heathrow, and one to Luton. Although the airport re-opened the following day, delays were to be expected.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch has started an investigation into the cause of the accident. Only days earlier a plane of the same type, flying from Glasgow to London City, suffered the same problem with its nose wheel, although the plane did not have to be evacuated.

The plane in question is an Avro RJ-100 which has been manufactured in the UK since 1992. BA have ten but there are 152 in service globally. Two have been involved in major incidents in the past with 99 casualties.

New business class flight to operate out of City Airport

There has been much speculation recently over whether BA would join the ranks of Silverjet and Eos in offering an all business class service to New York. In February, the airline announced its new twice daily service from London City Airport to JFK set to start in 2009. This will be the first service to operate from that airport to a destination outside Europe.

This will come as welcome news for business travellers working in Canary Wharf and the City of London, who wish to avoid the infamous “Heathrow hassle”. Currently, City business travellers to New York have either to travel across London and out to Heathrow, or trek up to Luton or Stansted, all of which can take up to an hour. City airport on the other hand is on the doorstep for City workers and, being a small and easy to navigate airport, means that the minimum check-in time is 15 minutes, as opposed to 45 minutes at the other airports.

Of course, as anyone who has endured the long queues (even in the fast track business lanes) at Heathrow will testify, the 45 minute minimum check-in time can often leave you hot under the collar and with little margin for error. The BA service from City airport will only carry 32 passengers, meaning that the time taken to board and disembark from the plane will be kept to a minimum.

The only downside with the new London City service is that the flights will have to stop for refuelling at Shannon airport in the west of Ireland. This is because the planes cannot take off fully laden with fuel due to the short runways at City airport. This will add 90 minutes to the flight time of their rivals, but BA is hoping that travellers will be able to clear US Customs at Shannon, cutting down on the time taken to clear the airport on arrival in New York.

With favourable winds, the return flight will be non-stop and only quarter of an hour longer than the flight to Heathrow. The planes will be new Airbus A318 jets with 32 seats, all converting into flat beds, and prices will be similar to the BA Heathrow to New York service, which varies from £1300 to £4600.

Lawrence Hunt, chief executive of Silverjet, believes that business travellers will baulk at the prospect of getting settled in their seats and then having to pack up and disembark an hour later at Shannon. Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA, however, is confident that this “niche service” flying passengers “between the heart of the two largest financial centres in the world” will be a success. Just who is right remains to be seen but perhaps the real beneficiaries will be the well-heeled leisure travellers, who are paying for their own fares, and who will benefit from increased competition between the carriers.

London City defends plans to expand

London City Airport has had to defend its plans for expansion, following a complaint from the Labour MP for the local area, Erith and Thamesmead. John Austin is concerned that the proposed increase in aircraft movements from 80,000 to 120,000 will affect his constituents adversely, both in terms of noise and general disturbance. He is calling for a public enquiry, should the London Borough of Newham give the green light to the plans. He also claimed that Bexley council residents would not receive funding for sound insulation, unlike residents in other affected areas.

A London City Airport spokeswoman has, however, defended the plans for expansion, saying that they form an important part of the regeneration of the Docklands area and, whilst it is recognised that some negative impact is inevitable for local residents, a careful balance has to be struck. She denied Mr Austin’s allegations that sound insulation would not be available and said furthermore that the measured threshold of sound at which such insulation is deemed necessary is lower in the London City airport area than in any other part of the country.

London City Airport is keen to be a “good neighbour” and will continue to enforce practices already in operation, such as a ban on night flights, 24 hour closure over weekends, and restrictions on noisy planes and the running of engines whilst on the ground.

Although the expansion may be bad news for local residents, there is no doubt that it is good news for employment in the area, with the promise of 2500 extra jobs in the period to 2030 with many more off site.