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Airport that helped the capital get ready for take off

PUBLISHED: 10:24 26 June 2008 | UPDATED: 09:13 11 August 2010

The first landing at the airport

The first landing at the airport

FLYING in and out of London may not seem out of the ordinary these days but many remember when London City Airport was cleared for take-off. It had been 40 years since the last airport was built in the UK and the idea of building one in the centre of Lond

FLYING in and out of London may not seem out of the ordinary these days but many remember when London City Airport was cleared for take-off.

It had been 40 years since the last airport was built in the UK and the idea of building one in the centre of London was still pretty outlandish.

The dynamics of it threw up all sorts of problems for the consultative committee who had to convince people that not only was it a good idea for London but for the local area.

In late 1981 the regeneration of the docklands was underway and some pioneering souls lit upon the concept of a city centre terminal for light aircraft.

It was September and Reg Ward, Chief Executive of the London Docklands Development Corporation discussed the idea with Sir Philip Beck.

An innovative airport was needed with short take off and landing aircraft, the first of which was the DHC Dash-7.

But it was nearly six years after the idea was first floated that the passenger flights took off from London's docklands.

The very first flight and landing was in June 1982, performed by a pilot called Harry Gee in the Dash-7 at Heron Quay.

Secretary of the London City Airport consultative committee, Stuart Innes, spoke to the POST about his memories of that year.

Stuart said: "Oh yes. I remember the day Harry landed that plane very vividly.

"Quite a crowd had gathered to cheer him on as he came in to touch down.

"I was sipping on a glass of champagne with a few others who had worked on the airport committee.

"Of course it wasn't until November 1987 that the airport officially opened with the Queen arriving to do the honours.

"That was a very exciting day; I got to shake hands with her majesty."

He added: "And the year before when we were breaking the first ground on the airport I got to meet Prince Charles.

"He arrived for the laying of the foundation stone and was very interested in everything we were doing.

"I believe he has a great fondness for aeroplanes."

Although the official opening of the airport was November passenger flights actually started on October 26 1987.

That was when Brymon Airways and Eurocity Express, later named London City Airways, began commercial flights to other European cities.

Stuart explained: "London city was never going to be used for freight carrying; it was always a businessman's airport first and foremost.

"We flew to destinations like Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam carrying people on day trips.

"The airport also had a fair few private customers; it was never the sort of place that people would fly from to go on holiday.

"You wouldn't see many families queuing up with their bucket and spade."

London City Airport has a very safe history there has never been any fatal or serious crashes.

In December 1987 flights were suspended due to safety fears but they were resumed in January 1988 after new air traffic control arrangements were made.

Stuart said: "We didn't come up against too many problems back in the day.

"I believe we have only called the emergency services to the airport once when there was a fire in an aeroplane's cabin.

"We got the plane down safely and the fire engines were waiting on the runway.

"Apart from that I think the biggest problem we dealt with on the committee was whether or not the airport would be open in time!

He added: "I remember we had a huge tarpaulin covering the runway that said "Open October 26" that was visible from the air.

"It advertised the airport to people flying down the Thames to Heathrow which was really quite clever."

As the infrastructure to carry people to and from the airport grew business there really began to take off.

In 1988 a river bus service was launched to carry people from central London to the airport in 35 minutes and of course the DLR service helped the growth of the airport.

When it first opened London City dealt with 15,000 passengers and within a year the airport was handling 133,000.

And it is still booming today with BA announcing services to New York, Nice and Barcelona and an extension of the east apron of the airport.


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