London City is the smallest, but most centrally located, of London’s airports. With its size and urban location, it has several restrictions on aircraft that can use it. You won’t find any of the larger Boeing or Airbus aircraft there, but there are plenty of smaller aircraft that can operate, as this article explores.
Restrictions on landing
London City Airport is located in a built-up area of the docklands. While it is immediately surrounded by water, the built-up areas of Canary Wharf and beyond are on the approach. As such, there are several restrictions in place on aircraft that can use it. The following are all prohibited:
- Helicopters and other vertical take-off or landing aircraft
- Single-engine aircraft
- Aircraft using the airport from flying or leisure clubs
- Aircraft operated by a single pilot
- Those aircraft that do not meet strict noise limitations
There are then further restrictions on which fixed-wing aircraft are permitted to land, based on the nature of the airport. In particular, London City has a short runway at just 1,508 meters, and narrow at only 30 meters wide. For comparison, London Heathrow’s runway is 3,902 meters long. It also requires a steep approach due to the height of the buildings surrounding it.
Making the steep approach
The most unusual aspect of London City is the steep approach required for landing, with a rate of descent almost double that of other airports. This approach is at 5.5°, compared with a standard approach of around 3°. This also affects take-off, with aircraft making full use of the available runway and climbing faster than usual.
Aircraft must be technically capable of making this approach. But pilots also must be experienced in this type of approach. This requires a particular rating for pilots. In reporting in The Express, British Airways Senior Training Captain Mike Pickard explains this:
“London City Airport has special requirements to allow a pilot to operate into and out of. Once pilots have completed their conversion training, they are required to then have further simulator training for the steep approach, short take-off, and landing.”
So, which aircraft (with the right pilots) meet these requirements? The following are all approved for use by airlines at London City:
- ATR 42 (both the -ATR 42-300 and ATR 42-500 variants)
- ATR 72
- Embraer Enterprise Regional Jet (ERJ) 135, 170 and 190
- Fokker 50 and 70
- British Aerospace Jetstream 41
- British Aerospace 146
- Saab 340 and 2000
- De Havilland Dash 8 (Q400)
- Airbus A318
- Airbus A220
There are also many executive and corporate jets able to use the airport. These include the Cessna CitationJet series, the Beechcraft Super King Air, and the Hawker 400 and 800.
British Airways, of course, is the most prevalent operator at the airport. Its subsidiary BA CityFlyer operates a fleet of Embraer 170 and 190 aircraft on European routes from the airport.
It also operated the Airbus A318 on a business class only service to New York, with just 32 seats. BA1/2 operated via Shannon for refueling and immigration clearance. British Airways, however, confirmed in July 2020 that this route would end with the retirement of its A318 aircraft.
The A318 was specially modified to handle the steep approach. It adds spoilers that can be raised on each wing and also warning announcements in the cockpit for the more complex flare procedures.
Adding the A220
The most recent aircraft to get certification to operate at London City Airport is the Airbus A220. With a capacity of up to 160, this will be the largest aircraft to use the airport. It completed several days of test flights at the airport in 2017.
In 2019 the A220 gained an ETOPS 180 rating, opening up the possibilities for transatlantic flights. It is also very fuel-efficient, around 40% more efficient than the Embraer 190, for example.
With the ability to operate long-haul flights out of London City Airport, the A220 could be an attractive option for British Airways. The airline has yet to express interest in it, but Simple Flying looked at the possibilities it would offer.
What do you think of London City airport? Have you experienced the steep landing and takeoff?