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London City Airport CEO Robert Sinclair talks to HfP about recovery – and new lounges

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Before my flight to Ibiza last week I had time to chat about how London City Airport is adapting to new circumstances with Robert Sinclair, its CEO.

Robert was candid about the struggles that airports and airlines face globally.  As a business-heavy airport London City is particularly hard hit, operating at just 10% of its usual Summer capacity thanks to the fall in demand from business.

To put this into perspective, I was told on my return that Ibiza airport is operating at around 30% capacity.

Interview Robert Sinclair London City Airport CEO

Leisure traffic is saving London City Airport

Despite this, many of the flights now operating from the airport are doing well.  It currently has flights to Florence, Ibiza, Palma, Dundee, Teesside, Isle of Man, Malaga and Amsterdam.

My own flight was virtually fully booked, with the only empty seats from a handful of no-shows.  I was told that the daily CityFlyer Ibiza flight is consistently at 80% – 90% of capacity, which is a good even at the best of times.  Malaga, Palma and Florence are also doing well.  It is clear that people are eager to travel for leisure.

The same cannot be said for business flying, demand for which has cratered. Whilst essential travel continues, London City doesn’t expect its major corporate clients to start flying in a noticeable way until September, and even then only at 20% to 30% of normal levels. Crucially, business travel will become the choice of individual employees – Sinclair feels that there will no expectation to travel for some time yet.

Interview Robert Sinclair London City Airport CEO

Where does this leave LCY?

London City finds itself in an unusual position. Few airports have as large a business to leisure ratio, and so are finding it easier than City to rebound as leisure travel slowly begins to return.

With significant business demand not predicted until later this Autumn, London City has pivoted to virtually exclusively leisure flying.  Key routes in normal times such as Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Dublin, Edinburgh, Zurich, Luxembourg and Milan will only return slowly.

Luxair relaunched Luxembourg last Friday, whilst we can exclusively reveal that Lufthansa will restart its Frankfurt flights from 6th September with two flights per day.

The good news is that London City has been diversifying its passenger base for some time now and now attracts an even 50-50 split between business and leisure passengers. This is a significant improvement from fifteen years ago, when business accounted for around 90% of all traffic at the airport.

Much of this growth has been achieved by utilising capacity that might otherwise stand idle. Airlines such as BA CityFlyer are effectively mopping up leisure demand at off-peak times during the day and at weekends.  This maximises the use of the aircraft and staff and has also proven surprisingly popular.

This will, clearly, continue. With only a handful of daily flights, London City has transformed into a leisure airport and is finding success in doing so. Whilst its domestic flights are flagging, Malaga, Ibiza, Florence and Palma flights are doing extremely well.

What about London City’s redevelopment plans?

Attracting a greater leisure audience is partly why the airport launched its redevelopment plan. The scheme, which we wrote about in 2018, will see usable floor space quadrupled, which in turn will allow for a greater amount of shopping and dining options for leisure travellers.

In addition, Robert Sinclair confirmed that the airport is planning for at least two premium lounges.  London City does not currently operate any lounges unless you count the Jet Centre in private jet terminal which we reviewed, here.

The lack of lounges has never been a problem in the past, as the airport’s key attraction for business travellers is the speed and ease of passing through.  (Although, at one time, the Rolex concession at London City had the highest turnover per square metre of any outlet in Europe!)

The maths is different for premium leisure travellers, who want to enjoy a drink in the lounge before a business class flight.  As it currently stands, the Club Europe and Euro Traveller experiences are not wildly different on BA CityFlyer, especially as such a high percentage of passengers have Executive Club status.

(If I had to guess, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a British Airways lounge as well as a third-party Priority Pass offering from a company such as Plaza Premium or No 1 Lounges.)

London City’s redevelopment plans are currently in limbo.  Whilst work continues on extending the taxiway parallel to the runway and the addition of several new aircraft stands, it’s not clear if or when the airport will continue with its original masterplan.  We may see delay or even down-sizing.  Much will depend on how aviation recovers in the coming months – even airport management are hesitant to commit one way or another – although the long lead time for the project means that it is unlikely to open before aviation has made a strong recovery.


It’s hard to believe just how devastating Covid-19 has been for airports and airlines. Whilst some flights are doing well, airports have become mausoleums in 2020, mourning the millions of passengers they would otherwise welcome.  Hopefully Robert and his colleagues can still make their plans come to fruition.

Comments (105)

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  • Sam Sneddon says:

    If I were in charge of LCY, I’d plough ahead with the airport expansion plans: there’s such a long lead time that it’ll probably be back to being needed by the time it’s complete.

    That said, I do wonder what BA will do with a lounge at LCY; especially in the peak times such a large proportion of travellers have status that I can’t imagine a lounge would be much use—could we see it restricted to Gold during the peaks?

    • marcw says:

      They could restrict only to Business class passengers.

    • ChrisC says:

      LCY is very status heavy for BA and there are considerable numbers of Golds so even if a gold restriction was implemented any BA lounge (and I’m a beliver that BA won’t ever have a lounge at LCY) would still be very busy.

  • Harry H says:

    LCY have their future in their hands.

    Their target customer will be largely absent for the foreseeable. They identify the need to diversify to leisure pax and they demand all the perks. Decent food and drink options with sufficient capacity For J class travel, fast track, lounge and priority boarding.

    The expansion plans will support the provision of those. The saying “Speculate to accumulate” was invented for this situation.Sit tight and hold onto the capital and it will just be a slow death.

  • George K says:

    I’m a big fan of LCY, even during days with security queues spreading to 20-30mins. Last year, I did 5 return flights from it and every time it was a marvel to have the plane lift off at the official time of departure. This never happens anywhere else. But for me, the real benefit is coming back. Even with a delay, my favourite bit is being able to jump off the plane and be in the DLR in 5 minutes. Again, you won’t get that anywhere else in London, I think.

    Long it may continue.

    • Jonathan says:

      Exactly! Many more factors than travel time to the airport front door/security queue length.

      You can walk from City DLR platform to any of the gates in 5 minutes. It takes you at least 5 to get from HEX platform to First Wing entrance plus another 5-20 minutes to a gate depending on A/B/C. Add in the increased boarding/taxi time vs the City doors closed & airborne in 3 minutes.

      Look at the block times for LCY-RTM (50 mins) vs LHR-AMS (80 mins) & you can see why people choose it.

      I would add that the City experience has deteriorated since they pushed for more leisure passengers though, I’m not bothered about no seats or tables to sit at or lack of lounge but the increased numbers of people who take 5 mins to empty their 6 pockets, locate their liquids, forget about the iPad in their bag etc. Security throughput seems to have nosedived in last 18 months.

  • IslandDweller says:

    To those commentators earlier in the replies – asking for more car parking at LCY…. Can’t see it happening. The planning agreement between the airport operator and Newham Council requires the airport to actively discourage private car use, for staff and travellers. In any case, the DLR is mostly overground and well ventilated – far less risk on the DLR than the narrow aluminium tube you’re about to get into.
    As for Crossrail taking away the competitive advantage…. Nine minutes (personal best) from touchdown to being on a train leaving the airport – that is never ever going to happen at Heathrow.

    • marcw says:

      Time from plane to train is very efficient in LCY. But LCY will never get the number of destinations and multiple frequencies throughout the day compared to LHR.

    • Matty says:

      I’ve done doors opening to getting on the Tube at LHR in 4 minutes. And it was still under 10 minutes, if you’re timing it from touchdown.

      Of course, it was a domestic flight. It did pull up at Gate 2. First off and I did legged it.

  • Novice says:

    In conclusion, Rhys states that Covid has been bad for Airports and Airlines and this is true but my opinion is that the travel industry needs to actually see this situation as an early wake-up call; a warning. If Covid is bad, then what are they going to do when the Climate Emergency accelerates.

    The travel industry is likely to be hit most by Climate Change too.

    I hope I don’t see any other global horrid situation ever. But, the truth is there and the facts. I’m afraid this may not be the only global situation I’ll witness in my lifetime and may also prove to be the least damaging to the world.

    • Josh says:

      I didn’t know Caroline Lucas was on HfP…

      • Novice says:

        I didn’t know who she was… but googled….

        Well my point stands. I always follow the science and facts…

        • Julian says:

          How can you be an HfP reader and not know who Caroline Lucas is?

          Can I take it from this that you are one of those people who never watches or listens to any news programs given that she has been frequent headline news for the last 20 years plus. ……….

    • Callum says:

      I can’t envisage a specific climate emergency (i.e. an actual event as opposed to generally rising sea levels/local droughts/hurricanes etc) affecting the whole globe simultaneously for an indefinite time, so I guess they’d do exactly what they do now during natural disasters but more often.

      I would think a global prolonged climate disaster bad enough to stop aviation would be potentially world ending, so their resilience would be the last thing on my mind!

  • Nigel Williams says:

    You should try living near London City Airport – relentless aircraft noise, booming engines during take off – an environmental tragedy. During lock down, tens of thousands of residents have lived in a peaceful haven, as was the case prior to the arrival of large-scale Embraer aircraft post 2010 – these are the equivalent of an F1 sports car using a go kart track. Proposals for expansion continue with no regard to residents quality of life – PROFIT BEFORE PEOPLE.

    • Josh says:

      Err…. But most people who live near the airport aren’t at home during the week are they? Most will be at work….

      • Lady London says:

        not in the case of that location. A very socially mixed catchment area surrounds the airport. Many would be at home all day for one reason or another. The airport is a relativy new thing in that densely populated area.

    • Don says:

      But what about the rest of your climate crimes? Living in London we can only imagine how awful they are. Shipping food and drink for sustenance. You could be a greater climate criminal then the planes you are aggrieved by.

      And don’t mention noise. Who cares about noise when millions will die in developing nations due to the climate crimes of LCY and your climate crimes?

      • Nigel Williams says:

        Don. What I’ve found in life for those who are dismissive to the pains of others is that they get what they deserve. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the pleasure of celebrating over the years for those like you who have been enlightened. Reflect back on your hate and disgust of others before it’s too late for you my friend

  • Novice says:

    I think ppl who live in a developed, wealthy country and travel just need to be able to admit that they are being selfish in this world because we are.

    I am not happy that humans are killing this planet and now are trying to find other planets via space travel etc. to destroy but I also admit that I might not suffer this CC as others because I ended up a rich brit.

    I think admitting it is important. So, I admit I’m selfish and I love travel and hope to see the entire world. And, in knowing that my actions are not as positive as they possibly could be for the world, I came to the conclusion that I’ll never have kids because I intend to use their potential carbon footprint to do the things that I want to do. So, people just need to follow the science and facts but ultimately make some decisions that may sound hard.

    Most Climate activists don’t look at their own actions. Greta is a legend but not all are doing all the right thing too. It’s all in the details.

    Since I don’t have a high opinion of humanity as a whole and know everyone is inherently selfish and I’m pretty sure CC will not be averted and global issues will occur and as I don’t have much faith in humans, I’ve decided that I can’t be bothered about what happens after 50 yrs because by then I’ll have done everything I want hopefully and will be chilling in a hermit haven in some mountain.

    I do hope y’all who read this comment does enough ECO stuff to slow the world’s death so I am living in hermit-land or dead when s*** really hits the fan…

    • marcw says:

      @Novice, nice to see you back again! Indeed, humans are selfish… However, one positive side of the covid-19 is that airlnies are getting rid of their most poluted airliners, BA, KLM, Virgin, Qantas their 747, Iberia their 340-600… in favour of more technologically advanced planes.

      If global travel reduces by about 25%, I consider it, despite the pandemic, a win for the earth.

      • Novice says:


        Yes. I’m happy 747 will never fly again and I’m happy for any advanced, efficient planes. The coverage 747 got, you’d think apocalypse had come.

        I’m not a scientist but I do follow scientific data and honestly as an OCD person who loves travel despite the many hazards, I don’t see any negatives of this pandemic for the world, as in the planet. Yes, I was miffed I couldn’t go to Maldives as it got cancelled but seriously if it gives the world a bit of time to breathe then it isn’t a bad thing.

        I don’t mean to be rude about those who did lose their lives and got really ill though. That’s bad but the truth is the world was outraged when a human said ‘I can’t breath”… Apply that same feeling to Earth and nature/bio-diversity then I ask everyone, where’s the outrage?

        Having said that, honestly the people who just don’t care about the planet we live on far out-number people who do care. So, after being sad about it and trying to change as many ppl as I could I realised that I’m just wasting my breath.

        Now, I try my best to be as ECO-friendly (also off-set my CF) and hope for the best in a bad case scenario. Also, I hope the world stays beautiful and keeps ticking for about 60 yrs. After that, I’ve made my peace with bad case scenario.

        • Novice says:

          ‘I can’t breathe’

          I didn’t spell right. I hate typos.

        • marcw says:

          For the planet as a whole, the pandemic has caused no harm. In fact, scientist still don’t understand why virus actually exist (I’m a scientist). It is thought that they exist to control populations, somehow (because the success of a “virus” depends on the size of the population – so bigger populations will be affected greater by a single virus than smaller populations).

          • Dubious says:

            Who said there was a purpose?

          • Callum says:

            As a fellow scientist, I find that to be a very bizarre sentence! We don’t “know why” any animal/plant/bacteria exists either. No matter how clear their place in the ecosystem is, the only thing driving them to exist is their desire to live and the conditions around them being amenable to it – which is no different to viruses.

            Your question seems to imply nature is in some way planned, whereas I’d argue it isn’t at all. Viruses certainly can control populations but I would never say they, or any organism really, have a “purpose”. It’s just something they happen to do.

          • Callum says:

            Very interesting topic though!

    • Confused says:

      When you say “killing this planet” what exactly do you mean? It’s quite hard to kill something that isn’t alive.

  • tracy says:

    He did not mention the amount of staff they have layer off over the passed few week..

    • ADS says:

      “London City has transformed into a leisure airport and is finding success in doing so”

      do you mean “was” finding success … because operating 10% of a schedule does not suggest to me that it is currently being successful ?

      • Rhys says:

        It’s finding more success in leisure destinations than business at the moment!

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