Insight from Robert Sinclair, CEO London City Airport

Aviation Club Op-ed

Our industry has faced significant challenges over many decades, but never could I imagine a situation where virtually all flights around the world would be grounded for months on end.  This crisis is having a huge impact on our industry and businesses and economies across the globe.  We can only hope that governments will realise very shortly just how isolated and impoverished the world would be without air travel.    

At LCY, we made the decision to temporarily suspend operations in late March just after the lockdown was announced by Government and when we could see a real increase in infection rates across London. It certainly was not an easy decision, but we felt it was the right thing to do for the health & wellbeing of our staff and passengers, and to protect the local community in Newham.  This period has also allowed us to efficiently progress a number of airside projects as part of our major development programme.

The weeks since lockdown began in the UK have been like no other, and while there have been barely any aircraft in the sky, the demands placed on staff as we completely re-write the rules of air travel, and re-interpret the guidance in our airports and on-board planes, has meant we have all been working as hard as ever.

For us at London City, the challenges we have went through will be worth it on June 21st when we restart services. It is something everyone is looking forward to and news which staff, as well as many of our stakeholders, have welcomed.

We anticipate a relatively slow build up as the market returns, and as passengers become more confident with the new health measures in place, and hopefully the new quarantine is lifted, partially or in full.

During this period, we have worked very closely with our airlines, concessionaires and other business partners to support their re-start plans, with all of us focussing on working together and taking a long-term, “one team” approach at LCY.

We are confident that by the start of July we will have more domestic services from the airport, including Dundee and Teeside which were announced pre lockdown but were yet to commence from the airport. We also expect to see our biggest airline, BA City Flyer, once again providing business and tourism connectivity across the UK and Europe and they will hopefully be joined by KLM and LuxAir.

As airlines look to make decisions about the future, it is my hope that some who do not currently operate from our airport, consider the economic advantages of flying regional and hub services on smaller, LCY approved aircraft. We also hope they will consider the more traditional benefits of the airport, which I believe are even more relevant in the world we are in  now, such as the fact we remain the quickest airport to get to and through from Central London and that we will not require passengers to be in the airport 2 hours before departure. We are certainly looking forward to having those conversations and working with them on an offer that will appeal to passengers as they start to make their travel choices again.

However, the 14 day quarantine ban has undoubtedly hampered and delayed the recovery of UK aviation and everything it delivers for the economy.

You all know the arguments against it, indeed I am sure many of you have made them publicly yourselves. What is important now is that we help the Government make sensible, not reactionary, policy which helps the industry, the economy and allows people the ability to explore the world again.

We urgently need to understand when it will be reviewed, who it will be reviewed by, what data will be considered and how this will be communicated to industry and passengers.

What we cannot have are any more surprises. There needs to be genuine collaboration between Government decision makers, industry and international partners to gradually remove the quarantine, first with air bridges at the end of June, and then, hopefully altogether by the end of July at the latest so we can get the economy moving by facilitating business, and in and outbound tourism.

Your data, your insight, whether it is on demand, country by country epidemiological data, or risks you face will be invaluable and I would encourage you to share them with Government as soon as possible.

Passenger confidence will completely underpin how we bounce back. I hope over the next few weeks, as UK consumers see Europeans taking to the sky again, and as Government health guidance for travel is approved, we will be able to communicate with passengers about why they can feel confident about booking flights again.

That is exactly what London City Airport will be doing in the build up to June 21st. All of our communications will be underpinned by a focus on health and safety, and passengers knowing that we have their wellbeing at heart.

The airport will follow government guidance to the letter and  will go above and beyond it in some instances, for example by installing Temperature Checking Technology both on departure and arrival, providing staff with face masks and visors and providing clear instructional signage for every step of the journey. The airport will also deploy rigorous and thorough cleaning regiments, including the use of an anti-bacterial surface treatment which will begin to kill all germs upon contact and lasts for up to 12 months. 

We believe this is what passengers want. And, moving forward, we will stay in conversation with our customers so we consistently improve, adjust and make safer, the experience travelling through the airport.

But we should not underestimate the challenges ahead. Every single aspect of the passenger journey from origin to destination will change. And if all parties are not aligned that will undermine not only passenger confidence but confidence from government in our ability to withstand a similar crisis in the future and avoid another global shutdown. This is the greatest risk to us all and one that we must collaborate on to avoid.

Aviation has seldom had it easy. Our gains have been hard won and we will have to regroup to ensure we can grow again in a market where much more is expected of us in terms of health & safety, sustainability and being responsible employers.

But if ever you have doubt, just remind yourself how integral we are to how this island does business, for tourism and for simply enjoying a well-deserved holiday abroad. We are integral to the human experience and that, no matter how aggressively it is marketed, will never be possible by Zoom!