City noise ‘worse than Heathrow’

There can be few things more unsettling than being woken in the early hours by the sound of your house shaking, or being showered in bits of energy-efficient light bulb as it explodes over the dinner table, but these are precisely the kind of incidents that occur in towns such as Wythenshawe, Manchester, and Saffron Walden in Essex.

Rather than being haunted, or besieged by telekinetic villains, these two villages are under the spell of a rather more mundane evil – aircraft noise. Wythenshawe and Saffron Walden are ‘noise blighted’ communities, two of tens of examples across the UK, with many more likely to join their disgruntled ranks over the coming years.

The spotlight fell on towns and villages around London City Airport earlier this month, after a local pressure group, Fight the Flights, discovered that the Docklands hub produces more aircraft noise than Heathrow, up to 87 decibels in some cases, roughly equivalent to standing next to a petrol lawn mower.

Local newspaper, the Evening Standard, cited a recent change in flight paths over London, and a reduction in the number of propeller-driven aircraft flying from the hub, as the reason for the increased aircraft noise. Propeller planes, such as the Bombardier q400, are much quieter than jets.

However, the worst is yet to come for residents – London City has permission from Newham Council to expand its schedules by 50%, a plan that has angered Fight the Flights. The group, which claims to be ‘anti-expansion, not anti-aviation,’ is planning to take Newham Council to court, in a bid to have the scheduling boost halted.

Anne-Marie Griffiths, from Fight the Flights, was concerned, saying "it should not be forgotten that East London suffers a double whammy, of not only London City Airport flights, but also Heathrow flights overhead, adding to the misery." The two hubs lie on roughly the same latitude, on either side of London.

Fortunately, at least for residents living in the noise-blight zone, the morning of Tuesday November 16 was a quiet one in the Docklands area of London. Flights into and out of City were subject to “indefinite delays,” after dense fog reduced visibility to just 100m. The incident is the second of its kind at City in just over a month.


BA buys jets, adds Stockholm route

A route from London City Airport to Stockholm, Sweden, is the latest in a series of new destinations by UK flag-carrier, British Airways (BA).

The flight, which will be operated by a wholly owned subsidiary of BA, the appropriately named, CityFlyer, will enter circulation on January 9 2011. CityFlyer’s commercial boss, Luke Hayhoe, claims that Stockholm was “an exciting choice” for a new route, especially as a similar flight to Sweden’s Nordic neighbour, Denmark, had been a “success.”

Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, was founded next to Lake Malaren, a place of some importance to local communities, in the middle of the 13th century. The city’s unusual position, atop several small islands on the coast of the Baltic Sea, has led some visitors to refer to Stockholm as the ‘Venice of the North.’

According to news website, ABTN, CityFlyer will eventually operate its London City-Stockholm connection with one of two new E-190 aircraft, due for delivery in "early spring."

The second aeroplane remains in operational limbo, however, but Luke Hayhoe claims that the airline “presents opportunities for us to further expand our London City schedule.”

Despite being owned by BA, CityFlyer has none of its parent company’s international aspirations. The airline, which only has the one base at London City, travels to destinations in Western Europe exclusively, including Glasgow and Edinburgh in the UK, Copenhagen in Denmark, and Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in Holland. A CityFlyer route to Chambery in France will also begin operating from the Docklands hub on December 18 2010.


Flights disrupted by City fog

Aeroplanes flying to and from London City Airport had their plans scuppered on Friday, after a heavy fog bank rolled into the Docklands hub, grounding several flights, and forcing airborne planes to land elsewhere.

The incident, which is the first closure of its kind since the winter of 2009/10, excluding the recent volcanic ash crisis, resulted in delays to outbound flights, many of which will have been routes operated by British Airways. Up to 18 take-offs were aborted, and 10 inbound flights from other airports were hastily cancelled.

London City is one of the most fog-prone airports in the UK, succumbing to the phenomenon regularly during the winter months. Speaking about a similar event in February 2008, a spokesperson for the London hub claimed that City’s short runway leaves limited margin for error, as take-offs and landings are steeper than at Gatwick Airport, for example. Weather conditions that result in low visibility, such as fog or snow, complicate an already difficult approach for inbound aircraft.

In comparison, Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire is rarely hit by fog, often serving as a ‘safety net’ for planes that can’t land at Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Planes bound for London City were sent to Heathrow and Gatwick on Friday, as the Docklands hub battled with poor weather conditions into the afternoon.

The BBC News website reports that the nearby Woolwich ferry terminal was also hit by fog, delaying departures, and preventing travellers from crossing the Thames.

Despite a morning of cancellations, London City reported only a minor backlog of delayed flights. The airport had been urging travellers to contact their respective airlines before leaving their homes.


BA makes ‘worst ever loss’ – again

Embattled airline British Airways has suffered another setback to its business plans, after posting an annual loss of £531m – the biggest profit slump in its 36-year history. Current boss Willie Walsh insinuated that BA needs ‘permanent change across the company’ if the flag-carrier is to return to profit.

The Court of Appeals has also overturned a ban on fresh strikes by BA’s cabin crew team, guaranteeing up to 15 days of disruption throughout May and June. The airline lost £43m in March, as 12,000 members of the Unite union voted in favour of industrial action. BA could now face cancellations throughout the summer, including during the 2010 World Cup.

It’s hard not to feel bad for Willie Walsh, but his mulish attitude has not helped diffuse the row with Unite, regardless of how many politicians wade into the melee. The recent £531m profit dive, which was announced on May 21, was immediately blamed on the union, an odd move given the scale of disruption caused by Eyjafjoll’s smog.

Derek Simpson, joint chief at Unite, urged BA to stop acting ‘macho’ and ‘silly’, whilst a BBC newsreader insinuated that there was too much ‘bad blood’ between BA and Unite for there ever to be an amicable conclusion. BA’s resilience is admirable, but ultimately self-defeating, and a deal with Unite will have to be brokered soon if Willie Walsh wants to prevent further damage to the airline.

With a strike pencilled in for Monday, BA has begun arranging its contingency plans. The carrier plans to sacrifice Heathrow Airport to spare Gatwick and London City from cancellations, but the airline’s debt could still balloon by the end of June, regardless of how well BA prepares its hubs for another Unite siege.


Airline to leave City Airport

Disruptions caused by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjoll, have contributed to the loss of flights out of London City Airport. Domestic routes to Plymouth and Newquay will be axed by Air Southwest from the 21st May, after the airline lost £300,000 to six days of delays in April.

Air Southwest called the decision a ‘surprise’ and a ‘disappointment,’ and cited flagging demand for the route as the impetus for the cull. The airline will continue to operate a daily route from Gatwick to Devon and Cornwall, but there will soon be no air link between central London and the southwest.

The cut has caused much upset in Plymouth, the airline’s home, with local businesses and even the Chambers of Commerce expressing dismay at the news. Peter Davis, director of Air Southwest, explained that the airline needed to ‘review its network’ of flights in order to make the ‘very best use of company resources.’

Devon and Cornwall have been linked to central London for barely a year, but the route had enjoyed some success in the capital, due largely to an advertising campaign that targeted harried Tube travellers. The flight ultimately became a popular business service, albeit one that never ballooned as expected.

Air Southwest has maintained bases at Plymouth and Newquay airports for a number of years, flying direct to the Channel Islands, the Irish Republic, and Manchester, among other destinations. The airline operates small turboprop aircraft such as the Bombardier Dash, a favourite of budget airline, Flybe.

Related Links

Volcano Causes ‘Massive Disruption’

Swiss Boost for City Airport


‘Reject BA offer,’ staff told

British Airways (BA) has slammed Unite’s ‘callous disregard’ for air travellers, after the union urged its members to reject a new pay deal from BA boss, Willie Walsh. The move could result in industrial action from the 14th May onwards, with walkouts lasting between ten and twelve days.

Willie Walsh once claimed that Unite is trying to ‘ruin’ British Airways. Despite the union’s protestations, the longer that BA is held to ransom by its own staff, the more likely it is that the airline will be toppled by debts and tribunals. Unite clearly have the upper hand, but that hasn’t stopped the union launching a fresh attack on Britain’s flag-carrier.

Unite was responsible for strikes totalling seven days during March, costing BA around £45m. Not to be outdone, the airline retaliated, and revoked all travel perks for striking staff, including free travel. The move was seen as an act of desperation at the time, but BA’s revenge struck an unexpected chord with staff members.

Yesterday, Unite demanded that BA reinstate all employee benefits, in addition to the demands that it has made in previous months. The request directly precipitated Unite’s call for its members to reject BA’s latest pay deal, and could result in further strikes throughout May and June. BA cannot afford any more setbacks, however.

The recent eruption of the Eyjafjoll volcano stripped an estimated £100m from BA’s bank balance, and £2.15bn from the European aviation industry as a whole. Unite remains unsympathetic. Casual observers could be forgiven for thinking that Unite is trying to punish BA’s hubris, rather than protecting the interests of its members.

Unite recently founded the specialist cabin crew branch, BASSA, otherwise known as the British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association. Despite its name, the department exists solely for the protection of BA cabin crew, and is currently polling its members for opinions on the length of future strikes.

Related Links

Talks Resume as BA Debts Explode

Scotland ‘Cut Off’ by BA Strike

Walsh Claims Healthy Figures


London City wins magazine award

London City is the UK’s top airport, according to Wanderlust magazine. The airport garnered an 85% approval rating, 2.6% more than its closest rival, Southampton, and 3% more than Newcastle in third place.

Founded in 1993, Wanderlust is a publication aimed at ‘independent and adventurous travellers’. The firm routinely hands out awards to leaders of the travel and tourism industry, focussing on airports, airlines and guidebook publishers.

The poll highlighted the growing importance of smaller airports, with both Robin Hood and Exeter making the top 10, with 77% and 74% respectively. Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh also proved popular with British travellers.

None of the UK’s airports made it into the global top 10. Top of the list was Singapore Changi with an impressive 92.5% score. Britain’s most famous airports, Heathrow and Stansted, absconded from the rankings altogether.

Perhaps the most interesting of the Wanderlust accolades is the Disservice to Travel award, which is handed to companies and individuals with diabolical customer service skills, or to technologies that have upset hundreds of travellers.

Unsurprisingly, the full-body scanner was a firm favourite of the editors, but the Met Office and workers’ union Unite was the ungrateful recipient of the award.

London City has held the Gold Award in the Top UK Airport category for four years now. Wanderlust praised the airport’s commitment to customer service, citing its central location and ease of access as a boon to travellers.


Swiss boost for City Airport

On Sunday morning, Swiss airline, Baboo, began taking orders for a new twice-daily service from London City Airport to Geneva, Switzerland, offering one-way flights from £51 per person.

The carrier, which has just five planes in its fleet, is hoping to boost business links between England and the Italian cities of Florence and Venice, opening up central Europe to rich executives and shoestring travellers alike.

Founded in 2003, Baboo maintains a base at Geneva Airport, and a vision to unite quality with affordable prices. The airline carries the red and white of the Swiss cross, painting their aeroplanes with nice flowery patterns.

Baboo will operate under a code share agreement with Irish airline, CityJet, whereby both companies can sell seats on their partner’s planes. Air France has also begun offering flights to Switzerland.

Richard Gooding, chief executive at London City, was pleased with the airport’s latest acquisition: “Baboo’s on-board product is excellent and we know it will be well-received by our passengers who demand a high level of service."

The airline has marketed the London City flights at Swiss executives, but a spokesperson for the company was keen to provide Brits with an alternative to the autumnal weather, citing London’s swirling fog as a reason to pack up and fly away.

Intrepid travellers will be able to extend their route from Geneva to a number of Swiss and Italian cities, and to Ireland and Scotland on the return trip. The first flight of the day departs at 9AM from London City, arriving in Geneva three hours later.


Terminal investment will keep passengers moving

London City Airport is set for a multi-million pound makeover in 2010. Despite the global meltdown, officials at London’s biggest business airport clearly believe there’s a future in air travel from the heart of the English capital.

The terminal reconfiguration will be managed by Atkins Global, an engineering and design consultancy which has been responsible for several major infrastructure projects at City Airport.

The planned changes to the terminal building are partly in response to the shift towards online check-in. With business and leisure passengers now frequently checking in from their office PC or even their web-enabled mobile phone en-route to the airport, London City’s management team have identified the need for a new style of airport.

When the airport opened in 1987, e-tickets were still over a decade away. But these days there simply isn’t the need for the more traditional, girl-behind-a-counter approach!

Online check-in makes the whole experience of flying easier and more streamlined and the modifications at City Airport are in the same vein. The new terminal design will help to avoid bottlenecks and keep passengers moving through an airport keen to hold on to its reputation as one of London’s fastest.

Melanie Burnley, Director of Terminal Services, explained that they were "introducing additional security lanes to respond to the change in passenger behaviour". This involved more online check-ins and less need for traditional check-in desks. All in all she said that this would enable more passengers to go straight through to security upon arrival.

The facility already boasts of its "no-queues" policy, and claims that the average transit time for passengers going through security is just two minutes. It’s an impressive statistic compared with many of the London airports and customer satisfaction is clearly high on London City’s list of priorities.


£574 for a parking space

London City Airport has the most expensive car park in the country, the Daily Express has revealed. At £186 for a week long stay, a pre-booked space costs almost as much as two Ryanair flights to Berlin, even allowing for extras such as baggage.

A two-week stay tips the scales at £287, and that is providing that all spaces are booked in advance. Already, London City is charging customers six times the national average for long stay parking.

Turning up unprepared on departure day adds more than one hundred pounds to the cost of a week’s parking, whilst the fee for a fortnight skyrockets to more than £500, a figure that could pay for a long weekend on the Continent.

Airport officials claim that the charges have strategic value, encouraging passengers to leave their cars at home.

Norman Baker, MP for the Lewes constituency, has taken umbrage over the fees. The Liberal Democrat pointed out that excessive parking charges devalue budget airlines by adding extra costs to otherwise cheap flight tickets.

"It’s a rip-off. The amount being charged is probably enough to pay for a return flight to New York," Mr. Bates said.

London City has enjoyed an otherwise productive September. After being praised for the punctuality of its planes, the airport has announced plans to redevelop its terminal building during 2010.

Responding to the boom in online check-in facilities, London City wants to give passengers greater access to security desks, reducing the time that customers have to spend in queues, and improving connections between flyers and resident airlines.

Brave travellers can book their parking space in advance on the Airport Parking Shop website.