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Soaraway issue

Ten years after the first plane took off from its runway, London City Airport is awaiting a decision which could allow it to fulfil its most ambitious expansion yet.

As NCE went to press, the operating authority was waiting for Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to decide whether it should be allowed to double its number of slots and hence its capacity.

The airport has had mixed fortunes since it opened in 1987 on a disused quay in the Royal Docks. Built and owned by contractor John Mowlem, it was given planning permission on condition that it was only used by small, quiet short take-off and landing planes.

This initially seemed ideal for the 30M project, which was conceived as a specialist airport to cater almost exclusively for the business market. Air traffic movements were restricted to 120 per day on weekdays, and 40 at weekends no night flying and no helicopters.

But in the first years of operation there were problems with air traffic control. Systems which had been promised by controllers at Gatwick were not always available. Domestic routes turned out to be unsuccessful and it became clear that more European destinations were needed for the airport to survive.

However, the small planes did not have the range needed, and to bring in larger aircraft the runway had to be lengthened.

A second public inquiry held in 1990 concluded that the expansion of the airport would benefit the economy of east London and the City, so the work went ahead.

Although the airport is poorly served by public transport, opening of the new Docklands highways in 1993 made it much more accessible, and passenger numbers grew substantially. Public transport links will improve with the opening of the Jubilee Line Extension.

The airport was bought two years ago by Dublin businessman Dermot Desmond, and the push is now on to expand it further. The planning application currently being considered is for a doubling of aircraft movement slots, with no change to the operating hours or the size of the facility.

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