The convenience marriage – The BAe 146 and London City Airport story
I have always been fascinated by the women and men with the drive and determination to row against the tide in the pursuit of a vision. With no fear to think and create different, they often find opportunities where the majority only see issues.
This is a story about a convenience marriage, a symbiosis of two elements that possibly would not have been what they are without each other. London City Airport and the BAe 146 (also known as Avro RJ), the most successful British built airliner.
It is under the drive of the LDDC – London Docklands Development Corporation, the government agency that in the early 80’s took the lead the regeneration of the London Docklands area, that the idea of a city airport was developed.
Whilst the benefits of such a location are obvious, the operational, technical, social and environmental challenges associated to an airport located in a densely populated area are of a tremendous scale. It takes strong determination and courage to overcome every single one of them and bring the airport to what it is today, with more than 3 million passengers every year and over 70,000 operations.
Surrounded by water and with a very short runway of only 1500 metres, the airport has one of the steepest glide slopes, meaning aircraft have to approach the runway at an angle more than twice the usual one. The steep approach and climb requirements, together with the limited runway length, limits the aircraft types allowed to operate out of London City, restricting it to propeller aircraft. Not to mention the severe noise restrictions.
Next 26th of October will mark the 26th anniversary of the first commercial flight out of London City Airport (LCY).
After almost two decades of abandoned studies since the late 50’s, the then designated HS146 study begun in 1971. With very unique characteristics for a regional, feeder airliner, the 146 featured four turbofan engines a high wing and a T-tail.
The 1973 oil crisis brought the project to a halt, and it was not until the formation of British Aerospace in 1978 that the project was revived.
Built around the idea of operating out of small, often unpaved airfields, the aircraft offered outstanding take off and landing performance, being able to operate in short runways. It’s four Lycoming engines granted the aircraft it’s two most common nicknames: Jumbolino and Whisperjet.
The silent operations proved to be, together with the shortfield performance, the two key attributes that made it the perfect -and first- jet aircraft to operate in London City Airport. After a very successful trial in July 1988, followed by a poll in which 83% of the residents approved the introduction of the BAe 146, commercial flights of the type started operating in the small airport in 1993.
Ever since that moment, the history of both airport and aircraft is written together. The airport proved to be the perfect field for the aircraft, and the introduction of the type into London City boosted the traffic, with a 96% increase in passengers in the first year of operations of the BAe 146.
Having flown in this charming, silent and comfortable aircraft many times, I am still fascinated by the radical engineering solutions taken when designing and building it, which made it the most successful British airliner ever together with the merit of making the impossible airport the success it is today.
A convenience long lasting marriage that contributed to the success of both, thanks to the creativity, courage and determination of the men and women that saw opportunities where others only saw problems.