26th October 2017: London City Airport is 30 years old

I first remember walking along the North Woolwich Road in 1978, the year I came to London.  The lively pubs my uncles – seamen from Scotland – had talked about were lively no more.  Much of the area was on its last legs.  The docks, which had provided so much employment for the area, were to close down just three years later, in 1981.

East London needed new sources of employment.  The Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine, formed the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) to redevelop the area.  It was its chief executive Reg Ward who first proposed an airport in 1981.  Community reaction was mixed with polls showing a majority of local people supporting it but also much local opposition.  The then leader of the Greater London Council, Ken Livingstone, also opposed it.

However, it was given planning permission and commercial operations started on 26 October 1987 – thirty years ago.       

The new airport was allowed to go-ahead on the strict basis that there would be no more than just over 30,000 flights a year using turbo-prop aircraft, the famous “whispering” planes. 

Many long-term residents feel that the airport created in their midst would have been tolerable at that sort of level.

In 1989, however, just two years after its opening the airport owners submitted a planning application to extend the runway to allow the use of a larger number of aircraft types. 

In 1992 the application was approved and the extended runway opened in March of that year.  At the same time the glideslope was cut to 5.5 degrees to allow the larger aircraft to serve the airport.  The glideslope (the angle at which planes descend) had been 7 degrees so as to reduce the number of people disturbed by the noise.

1n 1998 approval was given to increase the number of passenger flights.

In 2002 a jet centre catering for business jets was opened.  They were not to be included in the total number of flights permitted to use the airport.

In 2009 the airport finally got permission to increase flights from a maximum of 80,000 – 120,000 a year.

So, within a dozen years, the number of aircraft permitted to use the airport had risen from 30,000 to 120,000.  Many local people felt betrayed.  Most had little option but to stay in the area.

Of course the airport brought jobs and, it is argued, attracted businesses to the area.  It is the reason why Newham Council, the planning authority, continued to back it.  Many local people saw it as an asset and welcomed the employment prospects it might offer their children growing up in what for many years was one of the poorest boroughs in the UK.

Only people who have never experienced the pain of unemployment would dismiss lightly any development which brings jobs.  As a boy I heard stories from an earlier generation of my family who had experienced the utter despair of not having a job during the Depression in 1930s Glasgow.

 It was this mission to create jobs and prosperity in East London that drove many councillors to back the expansion of the airport in the 1990s.  It was a noble aim but it did leave a litany of broken promises made to residents about the noisy neighbour in their midst.

Over the years London City has developed a credible record in assisting the very local community around the airport with compensation, mitigation, training and investment in local facilities.  It has done less well in looking beyond the immediate area to the impact of its flight paths on areas further afield.  The most startling example of this was its decision to concentrate all its flight paths in 2016.  Complaints jumped fourfold.

So, what is our 30th birthday message to City Airport?  You’ve created jobs which many people value.  But your activities also create air pollution and noise which can affect people’s health and quality of life.

So, three wishes as you move beyond thirty.

1. No further expansion – it is essential that the current cap on the number of planes allowed to use the airport remains.  It is expected that, because of the new housing planned for the area, London City could come to impact 74,000 people which would mean it would overfly more people in the UK than any airport except Heathrow and Manchester and almost twice as many as Brussels or Schiphol.

2. No concentrated flight paths – the concentrated flight paths have created noise ghettos in areas across east and south east London.  The Civil Aviation Authority is currently assessing how the flight paths have worked during their first year of operation.  A solution needs to be found which provides some relief for the people of the noise ghetto.

3. No increase in noise and pollution – planes are becoming a little quieter and cleaner.  The way to ensure residents benefit from that is to make sure that the current cap on the number of flights permitted to use it each year remains.

And one more thing.  Moving forward, no more broken promises?

John Stewart

Chair HACAN East


I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that they apply to London City Airport’s plans, just given the green light by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), to concentrate its flight paths over selected communities across London. To, in effect, create noise ghettos. Beginning 4th February.

HACAN East is speaking with lawyers to find a way of challenging the decision.

Read More


Posted on October 4, 2015

by John Stewart


The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is expected to announce its decision on whether London City Airport will be required to re-consult on it proposals to concentrate flight path over narrow corridors.

If the CAA allows London City’s flight path plans to go-ahead, it will be against all the laws of natural justice. Hundreds of thousands of people who never expected more than a small percentage of flights over their homes will get all the flights over them.

It is a story of rank injustice and it makes my blood boil.

The story begins in 2008. NATS (the air traffic controllers) carried out a consultation for flight path changes for an area known as Terminal Control North (TCN) which covers the airspace north of the Thames for Heathrow, Stansted, Luton and London City Airports.

The proposals caused uproar. They were dropped….except for the ones covering London City.

What NATS did not tell local residents that London City would not be able to operate the bigger planes it has started to use without the flight path changes. In other words, unlike all the other airports, NATS had no real option but to approve the City Airport changes.

This was never explained to the residents of East London. Or at least to the few who knew the consultation was taking place. It is a strong word to use but there is no doubt in my mind these residents were deceived into believing the authorities had the option of dropping these 2008 flight path changes.

They were needed because the larger jet planes could not make the tight turn when taking off that the smaller turbo-props which they were replacing could do.

It meant that many areas got a lot more planes – places like Bow, parts of Leyton, Leytonstone, Wanstead, Dagenham and parts of Havering.

But then in 2014 came the hammer blow. London City said it wanted to concentrate all the take-offs on those routes. And it argued that, because the change was largely replicating what was already happening, it was only required by the CAA to carry out a minimal consultation. All it did was put a technical document on its website and inform the supine Consultative Committee.

The concentration, which will also affect parts of South London, would mean that some areas would get 30% more planes than they do now.

The key point is that areas which 10 years ago were relatively undisturbed by London City aircraft are faced with the prospect of getting all the planes concentrated over them. And they have never been properly informed or consulted about it.

And it gets worse. Many of these areas are also overflown by aircraft flying into Heathrow. In fact, according to a study carried out by HACAN, Waltham Forest is the third most overflown borough in London after Hounslow and Richmond.

This cavalier treatment of their residents has infuriated local councils and was probably behind Boris Johnson’s recent rejection of London City’s plans to expand.

Perhaps the most revealing aspect of this is that the aviation industry simply doesn’t seem to grasp the impact these changes have on residents. HACAN East went to see the CAA, (which oversees all flight path changes) about the 2008 flight path changes. They simply did not grasp that moving a lot of planes even just a mile has a significant impact on residents, including those many miles from the airport. (A key problem at City Airport is that departing planes cannot take off steeply because of the Heathrow aircraft above them).

In recent years there has been controversy over flight path changes at Gatwick and Birmingham and trials at Heathrow and Edinburgh. The fury has startled the CAA and NATS, both of which are reviewing their procedures. We’d welcome constrictive dialogue with both bodies.

But what has happened at City Airport is the best advertisement there could be for an Independent Noise Authority to be in place to ensure fairness. Because what has happened to the people of East London is simply unfair.


by John Stewart

Last week the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, turned down City Airport’s application to expand on noise grounds.  Although the decision caught people by surprise, there was a widespread feeling that the airport had it coming because of the cavalier way it has dealt with residents, local authorities and elected politicians over the years.  I spelt this out in an opinion piece for the Newham Recorder:http://www.hacaneast.org.uk/?p=643

 The question must arise:  would City Airport’s attitude have been different if it was dealing with a wealthier population?  We will never know for sure it certainly impacts on some of the poorest communities in the UK.

According to the latest Indices of Deprivation (2010), Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest are among 15 most deprived local authorities in the country. And Barking and Dagenham, Greenwich, Lewisham and Lambeth make it into the top 50.  Moreover, Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets have highest percentage of deprived people in the UK (1).

They will also be the communities which fly the least.  They are the victims of what Les Blomberg, the executive director of the US-based Noise Pollution Clearing House called ‘second-hand noise’:  “noise that is experienced by people who did not produce it.  Like second-hand smoke, it’s put into the environment without people’s consent and then has effects on them that they don’t have any control over.”

A good neighbour would tailor its strategy, and particularly its communications, to the needs of its communities.  In areas of real deprivation, variable online skills and limited access to technology, a good neighbour would ensure it provided plenty of leaflets and regular face-to-face meetings with the public.  It would make sure its materials were written in clear, simple language.

London City simply does not do this.  The recent consultation on its plans to concentrate its flight paths over particular communities was a prime example.  The consultation took the form of putting a technical document on its website and of informing its supine consultative committee.  Nothing more.  No leafleting of the areas that would be affected.  And by only consulting online, City Airport effectively disenfranchised a huge number of people.  Across the UK, 21% of people can’t operate online, but amongst C2, D and E classes it is 72%; and for those in 65+ bracket it is 52% (2).

 It is hard to avoid the conclusion that London City Airport, rather than trying to tailor its work to meet the needs of the area it impacts, is using the demographics of the area to get away with doing as little as possible.


(1). http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/mar/29/indices-multiple-deprivation-poverty-england).

 (2). Media Literacy: Understanding Digital Capabilities follow-up; Ipsos Mori, 2014


Opinion piece written by John Stewart, chair HACAN East, for the Newham Recorder


 Boris Johnson’s decision to refuse London City permission to expand may have come as a surprise but it was always on the cards that somebody would stand up to the airport.  London City is paying the price about being so cavalier about noise.

It has a history of refusing to engage with residents and elected councillors over its plans.  Last year it came up with proposals to concentrate its flight paths over certain communities yet it refused to leaflet the areas involved or come to talk with any local authority except Newham. Residents were frustrated, councillors were furious and the Greater London Authority wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport criticizing the airport’s behaviour.

In turning down the expansion application, the London Mayor showed he simply did not believe London City’s claims that an expanded airport, using larger planes, would mean less noise.

Newham is the one borough which has consistently – and controversially – backed the airport.  It does so on the basis it provides jobs.  In fact, the number of people employed by the airport is surprising small, less than 1,000, with another 2,000 or so jobs indirectly dependent on it.

Since the Mayor’s decision, London City spin doctors have gone into overdrive citing jobs that would be created by the expansion plans.  Be very wary! There are less jobs at the airport now than in 2009 when it said it would create 1,500.

The airport’s lack of honesty – be it about noise or jobs – has proved its downfall.  Local people, elected councillors and the Mayor of London simply don’t believe what it says.  Unless it cleans up it act, people may start to question whether East London needs it at all.  It has become the embarrassing relative amongst the exciting new developments which are taking place in the Royal Docks.