London City Airport: The smarter airport experience

Posted: 4 April 2016 | Declan Collier, CEO at London City Airport (LCY) | No comments yet

All customers have a choice – and passenger experience influences their decision just as much as speed, route, airline and airport location. London City Airport (LCY) understands that a smooth and rapid customer journey is vital. Declan Collier, CEO at LCY, reveals the airport’s work under the Smart Airport Programme to ensure customer experience and passenger flow will continue to be central to the airport’s success now and into the future…

London City Airport: The smarter airport experience

In 2014 UK airports handled some 238 million passengers, with 145 million of those passing through one of London’s five airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and of course London City. By 2030 that number is predicted to increase to 300 million passengers, with up to 200 million travelling to and from London.

In the continuing absence of a decision on an increase in airport capacity through the construction of a new runway, and during the 10-15 years between commencement and delivery of any new infrastructure following such a decision, the UK must follow the recommendation of the Airports Commission and make best use of what it already has.

London City Airport (LCY) has permission to increase movements from a current 79,000 per annum to 120,000 per annum, and is currently appealing a refusal of planning permission for new stands, a parallel taxiway and a terminal extension to allow it to handle the passengers and aircraft that are associated with the increase. LCY can deliver extra movements into the system within 18 months of work commencing.

The increase in movements will eventually see six million passengers using LCY, from 4.3 million in 2015. The airport’s current terminal building, however, was designed for no more than a million passengers.

Spatially constrained, in order to continue to deliver the LCY customer’s expectation of speed and excellent customer experience – both now and in the future with an extended terminal – in 2012 LCY embarked on the first project in what has become its ‘Smarter Airport Programme’.

Harnessing the ‘Internet of Things’

In 2012 LCY partnered with two small British technology companies and the UK Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK) to explore how the emergent Internet of Things could be used to facilitate and improve passenger flows.

200 data capture devices were installed throughout the airport, identical to those used in Mecca to inform crowd control during the annual Hajj, generally considered to be the largest gathering of people in the world. Without the need to register faces or individuals, the data they gather is fed into a central dashboard, providing an overview of Crowdflow, how the various stages of the passenger journey are functioning and alerting the terminal customer service team to potential delays and bottlenecks.

The information this provides empowers the team to make decisions to help smooth the passenger flow; deploying more airport staff, asking our airline customers to deploy their staff and engaging Border Force fully in the process.

Building on the Crowdflow monitoring system, the airport has added a modeling system that uses real-time data gathered to accurately assess the impact of process changes and physical infrastructure. This modeling enables LCY to further improve the passenger experience and makes the most efficient use of capital investment in infrastructure. In the future real-time data will combine with point-of-sale data to help improve the commercial offering to passengers and concessionaires. 

Automation in the terminal

Even with the ability to read passenger flows in real-time and adapt to changing circumstances, passenger growth of 45% since 2012 has presented a real possibility of lengthy queues and disgruntled customers. As a result LCY has automated check-in and, where possible, made it feasible for passengers using the Phase5 ‘bag-tag, weigh and pay’ kiosks to get through check-in in under a minute.

In security the last quarter of 2015 saw significant changes with the installation of a second ‘Gen 2’ security lane delivering increased efficiency and shortened journey times. While the airport is still waiting for permission to expand, space is increasingly constrained and the new lanes have delivered 100% extra capacity without encroaching on the lounge area to speed up the process.

This project has seen LCY move towards ‘remote’ screening – which means the baggage screening operator is no longer sitting on the lane, but in a separate room. LCY is not the first airport to install Gen 2 security, nor to go to remote screening, but it is one of the earliest adopters and currently has the lowest screening time of any European airport using the same system. Time spent in security is rarely more than seven minutes, even at peak.

Technology in the lounge

Free Wi-Fi seems ubiquitous these days, but four years ago LCY was doing what most airports weren’t and making the lounge a place that businesspeople could do business. The addition, in 2014, of the Bloomberg Hub – supplying up-to-the-minute news and dedicated seating areas – not only serves the needs of the business traveller but also helps move passengers around an increasingly busy space.

As an extension of the airport’s work on the Internet of Things, the airport’s passenger journey measurement data, along with data supplied by external agencies, such as Transport for London (TfL), could soon be fed into an end-to-end app used to guide passengers through the journey from start point to end point.

The app would inform the traveller when to leave the office to get to the airport in time, by their preferred method of transport, how long it will take to check-in, how long it will take to get through security, how busy the departure lounge is and where there is available seating.

It would allow advance purchase of food and drink from outlets at the airport, with an at-seat delivery facility, and provide real-time updates on flight times and departure gates.

Passenger management, education and encouragement

London City Airport recognises that the use of technology to facilitate the passenger journey is only one part of the process. LCY’s aim is to ensure that all passengers, whether frequent users of the airport or those who travel occasionally, are comfortable with the systems and processes that ensure a smooth and rapid journey.

This is achieved using an approach to customer service that includes passenger management, education and encouragement. This approach is exemplified by a focus on way-finding that has been allocated dedicated resource and the introduction of roving customer service ambassadors, equipped with tablet computers and tasked with the specific goal of easing passage through the airport.

ePassport gates were installed in the immigration area in late 2014, doubling capacity. While these are hardly ground-breaking (in terms of technology) the reaction of customers has been. When the gates were installed the airport was advised that it could expect a maximum of 40% of eligible passengers to use the e-gates. LCY currently has the highest utilisation rates in the UK, running at around 70%, and the aim is to increase this through the same approach to passenger management, education and encouragement.

Investing in technology and ensuring the technology is used is key to smooth passenger flow and speed of transit. International arrivals at LCY (with carry-on bags) from aircraft to train are on average less than five and a half minutes.

Investing to improve

In 2015 LCY began work on a £16 million project to transform the existing West Pier into a new facility to be called the Western Lounge.

The Western Lounge, which houses 70% of the airport’s departure gates, will feature a modern, open-plan layout with 600 additional seats and separate quiet areas. The floor area will increase in size by 84% (1,780m2 approx.), which will allow for a new range of retail, food and beverage outlets.

The new facility, due to open in summer 2016, is designed to better utilise existing space and provide a new passenger flow pattern in the departure lounge. While currently, particularly at peak times, the central lounge area becomes increasingly congested, the Western Lounge extension will allow passengers to journey to the gate in advance of their flight, certain of finding seating and other amenities close by.

Partnership working

The final piece of the jigsaw to influence the free flow of passengers through LCY is the airport’s relationship with its partners.

Clearly, airport security is tightly regulated and LCY works extremely closely with the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority and Department for Transport to ensure its compliance, while achieving the passenger promise of rapid transit. Most recently LCY was chosen as a development site for a new Security Management System (SeMS) that will simplify processes for the regulator as well as the airport, while serving to speed up the process for the passenger.

Similar working patterns have long been established with UK Border Force, with both partners in the process focused on minimising waiting times at immigration – whether that’s with extra Border Force staff, the installation of e-gates or the deployment of airport queue management operatives.

Key to the airport’s success, of course, is its relationships with its airline partners, particularly in the field of on-time departures, ensuring that passengers leave the airport with the same promptness with which they journeyed through it.

LCY has been the most punctual London airport for the past five years, in large part due to the work of the airport’s Turnaround Improvement Group. It is understood that readying an aircraft for departure within 30 minutes of arrival needs just-in-time co-ordination of all the elements in the process and the group is constantly working on, and improving, that process.

A focus on customer experience

LCY is confident that it will be granted permission to develop its infrastructure, and that it will achieve its permitted maximum of 120,000 movements per annum, with the associated 6.5 million passengers sometime around 2025.

Part of the plan is an extension to the terminal, which will result in extra lounge space, more amenity and better facilities. The work that the airport is doing today, under the umbrella of the Smart Airport Programme, around customer experience and passenger flows will continue to be central to its success in the future, as the demands of the customer are unlikely to change.

Customers have a choice and it is customer experience, as much as speed, route network, choice of airline and airport location, that influences the decision. A smooth and rapid customer journey is important – technology plays its part, and quality and variety of amenities and facilities are now seen as the norm – but it’s the people who deliver, maintain and improve upon the experience that glue it all together.


Declan Collier joined London City Airport as CEO in March 2012. Prior to his appointment he was Chief Executive of the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) and Chairman of Aer Rianta International (ARI) since April 2005. During his tenure he oversaw the successful delivery of a £1 billion capital investment programme to modernise the aviation gateways to Ireland, a successful expansion of the DAA`s international airports business and growth in the financial performance of the group. Prior to joining the DAA, Declan worked with ExxonMobil, where he held a number of senior management and executive positions in Ireland and the UK. He is President of the World Board of the Airports Council International; Board Member of the Airport Operators’ Association; Council member of the Confederation of British Industry; a Board Director of London First; Non-Executive Director of the Allied Irish Banks Group UK Ltd and Chair of the Remuneration Committee and is Chairman of the Dublin Theatre Festival and Chairman of the Irish Theater Trust. A native of Dublin, Declan has a Master’s Degree in Economics from Trinity College Dublin.

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