All those who dismissed London City Airport as a white elephant when it opened in 1987 should eat their words. In 15 years, aircraft movements in and out at the tiny, independently owned and operated airport have soared to 55,000 per year and it has now won planning permission to increase movements by a further 18,000.
Director of business development Charles Buchanan predicts that within seven years there will be 73,000 plane movements per year.
A stone's throw from Canary Wharf in London's Docklands and half an hour by cab from the West End, the airport caters to a niche market. It is hugely popular with Europe's business elite, who arrive in small privately owned or chartered planes to power lunch, blitz boardrooms and clinch deals.
So great is the volume of executive traffic that City Airport is now mid-way through construction of a Corporate Aviation Centre.
This will provide standing for up to 12 planes and facilities for passengers, air crew, passenger check-in, baggage handling and customs housed in a new 400m2 building.
Contractor Fitzpatrick has already laid the concrete apron and is busy putting in foundations for the building - a prefabricated steel framed structure, designed, manufactured and to be installed by specialist supplier Yorkon. City Airport's next phase of growth, however, hinges on its ability to make better use of its 1,999m long runway. At present planes taxi up the runway and then turn through 180infinity, blasting back down for takeoff, thus making it impossible for incoming planes to land. With its present runway configuration the airport is limited to a maximum of 24 movements per hour.
City is therefore about to build a new holding area which will enable departing planes to pull off the runway between taxiing and take-off.
'This will enable us to double the number of landings, ' says Buchanan.
City Airport is also extending the existing apron to provide stands for increased numbers of planes.
Designed by consultant WS Atkins, both holding area and apron extension will be reinforced concrete slab structures built out over the waters of King George V dock and supported by bents of augered concrete piles.
City Airport received expressions of interest for construction this week and will be invite tenders in the spring. The contract will be awarded this summer. Including design fees, all the upgrade work in train will cost a little over £20M.