Time to get a grip on aviation crisis, says airport chief

By Rob Virtue on July 19, 2012 10:48 AM |

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The boss of City Airport has warned Britain is heading for further economic disaster unless it makes a decision to increase flights to the capital.

Declan Collier, who joined from Dublin Airport Authority three months ago, said the lack of UK landing slots and a long-term plan for aviation meant London was losing business to its rivals.

"There are huge challenges facing the aviation industry here," the chief executive said in an interview with The Wharf.

"There's a terrible lack of policy. There's a massive vacuum which is dramatically affecting the potential for London to grow. There's a real danger that London will lose its position as the pre-eminent global city."

He pointed to the decision of Chinese aviation manufacturing giant Comac to position its European headquarters in Paris rather than London as an example of the consequences of the Government's failure to confront the shortage of global connections.

Collier called for an additional runway at Heathrow in the short-term with City Airport also taking on more routes exploiting its council-approved capacity to expand from 80,000 to 120,000 flights a year.

He said: "Chinese manufacturing and aviation will become a big factor in the growth of aviation so we in London have missed that opportunity with Comac. It's replicated over and over with companies deciding not to expand their business or not locate in London. We need to do something quickly.

"London City can play a part in alleviating that. We can take more capacity and help Heathrow but ultimately the Government needs to put in place a clear and fast tracked process to deliver additional capacity."

All too aware of the pressure from anti-flight campaigners, Collier said the increase in aircraft movements would be mitigated by new technology in next generation planes.

The London City chief has said the airport would be adjusting its masterplan over the coming weeks, focusing on ways to boost initiatives in green technology.

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It follows the airport's decision to hold back on consultation results on stand reconfiguration plans, which would see more of King George V dock paved to accommodate bigger aircraft.

Collier said the postponement gave the airport more time to mesh with plans to install clean technology firms on the south side of the airport.

The chief executive said: "For example, we can work with the University of East London to take some clean tech innovation companies of, say, six to 20 people and put them into wet-lab facilities that we would develop down the side of the airport.

"That attracts a different level of work to the area. For the companies themselves being close to an international airport is critical because what makes them successful is their ability to go out and connect with the broader international community."

Collier said he saw the plans fitting in well with the Royal Docks enterprise zone status and east London's expanding Tech City and the Green Enterprise District.

The airport is studying three tenders from architects alongside Newham Council and the London Mayor's office. A decision is expected soon, with a new consultation and masterplan launched by the end of summer.

Also to be included in the consultation is refurbishment work, new technology and improved baggage facilities. Stand reconfiguration, however, was paramount, he said.

"It's absolutely necessary we develop our facilities for the next generation of aircraft," he said.

"As we speak aircraft manufacturers are developing new aircraft which are more fuel efficient, more environmentally friendly and quieter.

"One of the aspects of making them more fuel efficient and quieter is to lengthen the wing span and that was one of the requirements when we were deciding what we needed here."

The first City airline to have purchased the next generation aircraft is Swiss International Air Lines, which is expected to fly C-Series Bombardier from the Royal Docks by 2016.