Take Off: City Airport Chief on the return of business travel and the future of the Square Mile


It’s been a quiet 18 months at London City Airport, the Docklands airfield popular with city slickers jetting to Canary Wharf and the Square Mile.

Fortunately for CEO Robert Sinclair, however, these days are increasingly looking like they’re over for good.

“We have certainly seen a significant increase in passenger traffic from July to August and now through September,” he said City AM.

And it is very important for the airport that it is not just people looking for a short vacation to sunny Europe who come through its gates.

“We are also seeing a clear resumption in business travel,” he adds. “Historically, we would literally see a shift from leisure to business travel from September 1st, and while it hasn’t happened with the same rigor as usual, it definitely does.”

“It is very clear that companies and business people are missing that face-to-face interaction and are starting to actually travel again. [Homeworking] is not a recipe for long-term, strong recovery in how businesses and people work. Although there will still be an element of hybrid working, we now see a very, very strong desire for people to get back into work. “

As a result, in the past few weeks some of City’s largest partners, such as BA, Swiss and Lufthansa, have begun resuming key business routes as London’s business district collapsed after a year and a half.

“Not out of the forest yet”

However, despite the recent surge in activity, like many airports, City will most likely see fewer passengers in 2021 than in 2020 despite the success of the UK vaccination program.

This is largely due to the government’s much maligned travel traffic light system, which at times resembled a drunken stumble rather than a coherent, coordinated policy.

The system has recently been redesigned – again – removing the somewhat confusing yellow list and reducing testing costs on return home by replacing mandatory PCR testing with lateral flow testing from the end of October.

It’s long overdue, says Sinclair. Above all, he describes the test costs as “exorbitant”.

The moves are therefore welcome, but it is clear that the UK aviation industry has been hit harder than international competitors.

Continue reading: Business trips are picking up speed, says Lufthansa boss in view of the influx of flights at City Airport

He points to Europe, where the combination of a lack of internal travel restrictions and the use of a Schengen-wide vaccination pass has resulted in demand falling to around 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels, while the UK is still lagging at 30-35 percent Cent.

“The industry must be given scope to open up and trade fully,” says Sinclair. “This is not the case at the moment; We are actually one of the few industries in the country that are still subject to considerable restrictions on their ability to act. “

He added that a government cut in Air Passenger Duty (APD) on domestic flights, which is currently the subject of consultation, would also be of great help to City Airport, which has relied on its UK routes to trade while traveling abroad Power are to be switched off.

“If the government is interested [cut APD] a very early implementation of this decision as quickly as possible and preferably before this winter would be extremely helpful. “

The city’s strength could accelerate recovery

Like many companies in the industry, City doesn’t expect demand to return to 2019 levels before 2024 or 2025 – when 5 million passengers passed the airport – that’s how big the damage was over the past year and a half.

But the airport, he adds, has an ace in the hole – the Square Mile itself.

“One of the most interesting things about the pandemic is the slowdown in some sectors of the London economy, particularly the fintech industry, which are driving our business.

“London has not lost its attractiveness as a travel destination, as a place to work or live. So with the strength of the London market, we might see a more complete resumption sooner rather than later. “

But in the meantime, City is working on some new projects that could completely reshape the way we travel around London.

“We’re involved in a number of projects that are shedding light on the future of flying from a zero-carbon perspective, such as electric whiz – air taxis,” he explains.

“We are looking at how we can possibly fit them into the London cityscape in the next two or three years.

“We believe we can be a kind of test bed for these future flight projects,” he concludes.



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