Declan Collier wants to increase London City Airport passengers from 3m to 7m by 2016
Declan Collier took over as MD of London City Airport in March. He plans to expand the 130-acre site’s runway area and invest in new stands as part of a drive to reach 7m passengers annually by 2016 (it handled 3.3 million at its peak in 2008). There was a serious decline in passengers since 2008, though they increased by 7% in 2011 compared to 2010, but are still only around 3 million. Collier wants to put in place an investment and infrastructure plan to facilitate growth, and this may involve new investors coming in and current infrastructure fund owners GIP and Highstar Capital diluting their holdings. There are plans to increase the number of stands from 18 to 23, and “build a new runway area to increase ‘movements’ from 36 to 41 an hour “and introduce a new generation of aircraft to increase passenger numbers.
Interview: Declan Collier, chief executive of London City Airport
London must feel like an oasis of calm for Declan Collier. After the abuse he’s endured in his home country of Ireland, it would have been a blessed relief to leave the Emerald Isle far behind.
By Jonathan Sibun (Telegraph)
10 Jun 2012
If the new boss of London City Airport feels a little guarded as he shows off his new workplace, it’s no great surprise – he’s been through the mill in recent years.
Take Ryanair’s farewell note to the former boss of Dublin Airport Authority, the state-owned organisation in charge of airports in the Irish capital, Shannon and Cork. The message from Michael O’Leary’s airline left little to the imagination as it reacted to the “fat cat’s” resignation last November.
“Mr Collier’s departure means that he will not be forced to tidy-up his own mess, reverse the DAA’s record traffic losses, or explain how he blew €1.2bn on a terminal he originally said would cost less than one sixth of the final figure,” Ryanair said.
So, did Collier leave Dublin behind to get away from O’Leary? “Absolutely not,” says the Irishman with a laugh, perhaps wisely avoiding taking on Ryanair’s somewhat selective facts and figures. “He’s a challenging business partner but I didn’t come to work at London City because Ryanair wasn’t here.”
But come he did, arriving in March this year to replace Richard Gooding who’d worked as chief executive for 16 years, building London City from a business with a few hundred thousands passengers a year to one handling 3.3m at its peak in 2008.
“Like any airport around the globe, we saw a fairly precipitative decline in passenger numbers in 2008/9, but have seen that recover. Passenger numbers were up 7pc in 2011, back over the 3m mark, and by 5.5pc so far this year,” he says. “We see the potential for strong organic growth. What we’ve got to do is put in place an investment and infrastructure plan that will facilitate that.”
Reports suggest that will involve new investors coming in and current infrastructure fund owners GIP and Highstar Capital diluting their holdings. GIP, which also owns major stakes in Gatwick and Edinburgh, has form in syndicating out its holdings and Collier won’t discount a similar move at London City. “They’re leaving their options open. There’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t be willing to put equity in,” he says. “My brief was to come in and help the business realise its potential. A sale or the introduction of new investors will be elements of what we look at.” Collier claims the Olympics will put London City in the shop window – it sounds like that’s exactly where the owners would like it to be.
There’s certainly a positive story to tell. Anyone who’s used London City will know it’s a world away from Heathrow’s out-dated, over-crowded halls. At 2pm on a weekday afternoon London City arrivals feels more like a library than an international airport. The baggage track is 29 yards long – at Beijing it’s more like 80 miles, Collier points out.
The airport works to a 20-10 blueprint – it should take a passenger no more than 20 minutes from arrivals to the departure gate and no more than 10 from landing to the taxi rank. “Many airports are struggling because of their age – they’re retro-fitting like crazy to prolong their lives. It’s like open-heart surgery as flights are landing and taking off around you,” Collier says, pointing out that London City was only opened in 1987. “We’re using facial recognition to track people through the airport – how they shop, rest, what toilets they use. It allows you to design an airport according to what the passenger wants.”
There are drawbacks. Planning restrictions mean the airport – which generates revenues of about £85m and employs 550 staff – has to operate peculiar hours. It’s shut from 9.30pm to 5.30am and from midday Saturday to the same time on Sunday. The short runway – and there is room for only one – also limits the size of the aircraft able to use the airport. Plans to increase the number of stands from 18 to 23, build a new runway area to increase ‘movements’ from 36 to 41 an hour and introduce a new generation of aircraft to increase passenger numbers are all a must if the airport is going to continue to compete.
In many ways, its success thus far has been not only a consequence of its location – just minutes from Canary Wharf – but also the wider failings of London’s infrastructure. The capital’s lack of airport space and capacity constraints of its biggest hub Heathrow are well documented.
Where does London City sit in the debate over the opposing calls for a third runway at Heathrow, a new Thames estuary airport or the loosening of planning restrictions at Gatwick? “The big issue for London is a lack of capacity and that’s most acute at Heathrow. Larger aircraft can only do so much and we see a role for London City in helping with those capacity problems. But clearly we’re not going to solve the issues of the London airport system.
“The great tragedy is that London is an important part of the UK economy but it’s missing opportunities, they’re sliding by. And the point that might well be missed is that these opportunities don’t come back,” he says, pointing for example to last month’s decision by Comac, the Chinese aerospace group, to base its European headquarters in Paris instead of London. “You have to believe that any government will have the economy at heart and will carry out an open and objective review of what is needed.”
For now, Collier thinks London City is well placed. “We have the capacity here, we’re in the right place and we’re in the right City,” he says. So small in this case isn’t all bad? “My mother used to tell me that great things come in small packages. I’ve lived by that over the years.”
Wikipedia says, on the constraints on the number of planes and the runway length:
The airport has stringent rules imposed to limit the noise impact from aircraft operations. This, together with the physical dimensions of the 1,508 m (4,948 ft) long runway and the steep glideslope, limits the aircraft types that can use London City Airport.
Mid-range airliners seen at London City include the ATR 42 (both −300 and −500 variants), ATR72, Airbus A318, DHC Dash 8, BAe 146,Dornier 328, Embraer ERJ 135, Embraer 170, Embraer 190 and Fokker 50. On 30 January 2009, trials were completed successfully with the ATR72-500, leading to its approval for use at the airport. The Embraer 190SR underwent trials from 28 March 2009, and thereafter gained approval. The Fokker F70, BAe Jetstream 41, Saab 340 and Saab 2000 also have approval for scheduled operations at the airport.
Corporate aircraft such as the Beechcraft Super King Air, Cessna CitationJet series, Hawker 400, Hawker 800, Piaggio Avanti and variants of the Dassault Falcon business jets are increasingly common. Helicopters are denied access for environmental reasons.
The size and layout of the airport and overall complexity caused by the lack of taxiways mean that the airport gets very busy during peak hours. The air traffic controllers have to deal with over 38 flights an hour on a runway requiring a lengthy backtrack for each aircraft needing to depart from runway 27 or land on runway 9.
Operations are restricted to 06:30 to 22:00 Monday to Friday, 06:30 to 12:30 on Saturdays and 12:30 to 22:00 on Sundays. These restrictions are related to noise.