London City Airport has drawn up plans for a major expansion – including allowing more weekend flights – as it becomes the UK’s newest facility in response to a post-pandemic tourism recovery.
The London Docklands airstrip has launched a 10-week consultation to increase the cap on the number of passengers who can enter and leave as it seeks to increase the number from the current 6.5 million to 9 million by 2031.
Any attempt to loosen historic controls on weekend or early morning flights is likely to be met with backlash from local residents and environmental groups.
The airport wants to ease its current ban on takeoffs and landings between 12.30pm on Saturday and 12.30pm on Sunday; it wants to be allowed to operate between 6.30am and 10pm on Saturday.
Management has also pushed to allow 12 flights to operate between 6.30am and 7am six days a week, up from the current six, and to provide more leeway for late arriving planes to land after 10pm rather than rerouting.
There will be no changes to the opening hours on Sundays from 12.30pm to 10pm.
The airport isn’t seeking to lift the current cap of 110,000 flights a year, which doesn’t even exceed pre-pandemic levels.
After upgrading the terminal and taxiways, the extra capacity will not require additional infrastructure, the airport said.
City Airport also offered local residents a “promise” to allow only new and relatively quiet aircraft to operate during the extended operating hours.
With passenger numbers rebounding quickly this year as Covid-19 travel restrictions are eased, expansion plans are in place. The airport expects to fly 3 million passengers this year, returning to pre-pandemic levels of 5 million passengers a year as soon as 2024.
Robert Sinclair, chief executive of the City of London, said: “The strength of our rebound shows that there is a huge pent-up demand for travel and the need to plan for the future responsibly.”
While many airports have put development plans on hold during the pandemic, none have been abandoned, and others, including London Gatwick, have recently given up Outlined plan Promote expansion.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye told the Financial Times earlier this year that his airport plans to build a third runway “Back to the table” And now is “the right time to invest in future capacity”.
Heathrow has the right to apply for planning permission for a third runway after the Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that the project could go ahead.
But in addition to local backlash, the plans face significant hurdles from growing concerns about climate change.
Last year ministers included transport in the UK’s carbon budget and net-zero target, and the government’s own climate change committee said any airport expansion would have to be balanced by capacity cuts elsewhere.
Environmental groups argue that expanding airports is not in line with the UK’s pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, even as the industry hopes to use new technologies, including different fuels, to lower emissions.
In the case of City, once consultations are concluded, any plans will first be submitted to local authority London’s Newham borough, with possible appeal to the Planning Inspectorate and ultimately the central government.