London City Airport Ltd., where a short runway has prevented operations with long-haul planes, said it’s in talks about flights to the Middle East, Turkey and Russia as new jets bring more distant destinations within reach.
Aircraft such as the Bombardier Inc. (BOMB) CSeries, Sukhoi Co. SuperJet, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. Regional Jet and upgraded E2 versions of Embraer SA (ERJ:US) model range will “dramatically change what happens at London City,” Chief Executive Officer Declan Collier said in an interview today.
“The real interest is emanating out of the financial service centers,” Collier said, with Mid-East carriers keen to replicate the airport’s business-class-only service operated by British Airways using Airbus Group NV (AIR)’s smallest A318 airliner.
The A318 aside, operations at London City are limited to regional aircraft, including various turboprops and the BAE Systems Plc (BA/) 146, which while seating 100 people has a range of 1,500 miles nautical miles. Deutsche Lufthansa (LHA) AG’s Swiss unit said last year it could operate at City with the smaller variant of the CSeries jet, due for delivery in 2015 and seating 120 with a maximum range of almost 3,000 nautical miles.
London City is also extending its terminal to handle more passengers and adding a taxiway to boost aircraft movements.
Located 6 miles from London’s main financial district, the airport opened in 1987 and was acquired by American International Group Inc. and Global Infrastructure Partners in 2006. The insurer exited in 2008, leaving GIP as the majority owner and Highstar Capital with a 25 percent stake.
Built on a former dockside in the River Thames, City’s 1,199-meter (3,934-foot) runway, together with noise restrictions, also means that aircraft must be able to make steep descents and takeoffs.
BA’s flights to New York can’t leave with sufficient kerosene to make the trip and must refuel in Shannon, Ireland. The U.K. airline makes a virtue of the stop by completing customs and immigration checks while on the ground, allowing passengers to avoid waiting at John F. Kennedy airport.
Qatar Airways Ltd. will serve London Heathrow from May 1 using an Airbus A319 in a 40-seat all-business layout in what it says will be the Middle East’s first premium-only service.
London City’s biggest operator is Air France-KLM Group (AF)’s CityJet Ltd., which offers 480 flights a week to regional airports including Florence, Dresden and Nantes.
While popular with passengers for quick check-in times and the short journey to central London, the carrier is unprofitable and was offered for sale in 2012. German turnaround specialist Intro Aviation GmbH is preferred bidder, with a sale likely to close this quarter, Air France said in December.
“Things have progressed,” Collier said of the CityJet sale process. “I think you’re going to be seeing a conclusion to that in the very near future.”
London City handled 73,713 aircraft movements and 3.4 million people in 2013, making it Britain’s 15th largest airport. The terminal has permission to double the number of annual flights, Collier said.
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