London City Airport Consultative Committee

Constructing the Airport

Tenth Anniversary article on the construction of London City Airport 1986/87

 

 

 

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An article from a publication celebrating the Airport's 10th Anniversary

Demolition
Runway
Terminal
Pier
Fire Safety & Maintenance Building
Fuel Farm
More Information

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More History Pages:
About the Airport - Home Page (Alt+2)
History Home Page (Alt+3)
Before the Airport (Alt+4)
Origins and Early History (Alt+5)
1982 Airport Feasibility Study (Alt+6)
Public Opinion Surveys 1982/83 (Alt+7)
1983 Inquiry Report (Alt+8)
1990 Airport Inquiry Report (Alt+9) 
From the Archives (Alt+0)

 
 

VISITING London City Airport now, it is worth reflecting on the challenges faced by the design team, contractors and sub-contractors to transform a derelict dockyard into an international airport

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Demolition

Construction took place on the Airport over an 18 month period between April 1986 and October 1987 commencing with a massive clearance and demolition operation. The overall site area of the airport is 40 Hectares (100 acres) on which stood rows of large steel and reinforced concrete warehouses previously used to store the many goods imported and exported when the dockyard was in use. These were demolished and the resulting rubble taken to two on-site crushers which generated 100,000 cubic metres of suitable fill which was used for the runway sub-base.

 
Site of Runway, looking west,1981 Site of Apron 1981 Site of Terminal 1981
The site of the airport in 1981. Left: Looking west along what is now the runway. Centre: Site of the Airport's apron. Right: Looking south towards what is now the Terminal
 

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Of the three dry docks infringing on the airport site the King George V dry dock posed a special challenge as it stood immediately adjacent to the footprint of the terminal building and was designated as part of the 20,000m2 aircraft parking apron. At 240m x 39m the dock was one of the largest in Europe and able to house HMS Belfast in comfort when it was the last ship to use its facilities.

Due to its sheer size, it was necessary to drain the dry dock over a period of three weeks and construct a series of concrete columns on which rests a 25Omm reinforced slab. This contains a number of remote vents to allow air circulation between the underside of the apron and the dock water which refilled the area following completion.The two smaller dry docks were less of a problem and were filled in with 90,000 cubic metres of imported material - some of which came from the timely demolition of the infamous Ronan Point tower block which was less than a mile away from the site.

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Runway

At 1080 metres long by 30 metres wide the runway was capable of handling STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) aircraft with ease. On initial test flights involving the Canadian Dash 7 aircraft, pilots were quite ably using only a tenth of the available runway, coming in on the requisite steep glide path and then flaring out for a perfect three-point landing. Harry Gee, a pilot of one of the inaugural flights, was even heard to say that it would have been possible to land a Dash 7 on the short term car park at the front of the terminal - taxis permitting of course.

Eventually, with the expansion of the airport and the need for flights to further destinations, permission was sought to allow jet aircraft to use the airport. This was granted but required the runway to be extended by 119m which was completed and soon afterwards the now familiar BAe 147 "whisper jet" began operation. This has now been joined by a number of approved aircraft types whose flight characteristics and low noise levels are in keeping with the airport and its unique location.

 
Constructing the airport: The picture on the left shows the King George V dry dock with part of the shuttering for the cylindrical columns being craned in. When the dock was drained an abandoned (unoccupied) vehicle was found showing that, despite years of immersion, the dock floor and walls were still in good condition
 

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Terminal

Built from a hybrid concrete and steel structure to enable fast-track construction the terminal has a total floor area-of 800Om'. In comparison with its peers, the terminal is relatively small - if all of the internal walls were removed for instance, a Boeing 747 would fit snugly nose to tail and wingtip to wingtip within the external walls. Yet despite this size, the terminal is remarkably spacious and fulfils the original design criteria of being able to handle 1.2 million passengers per annum and house all of the support infrastructure necessary in a modern airport from air traffic control though to baggage handling.

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Pier

Adjoining the terminal a 300m long two-storey pier and 10 gate lounges were constructed to enable arrivals and departures to be easily separated on each floor. As all of the aircraft are relatively small and manoeuvrable this allows them to park adjacent to the pier so passengers have just a few yards walk.

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Fire Safety & Maintenance Building

Safety is paramount at London City Airport and accommodated in a refurbished dock ledger building adjacent to the terminal are state-of-the-art fire and rescue vehicles and a team of dedicated and well -trained staff. Air travel is safe and emergencies are rare but safety drills and exercises with the emergency services and local authority are held regularly to practice the necessary procedures should they arise.

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Fuel Farm

Inside the completed terminal

Immediately adjacent to the FSM building is a refuelling facility with a storage capacity of 20,000 gallons.

It is a credit to the designers, contractors and sub-contractors that the airport was built in record time and enabled scheduled flights to commence in accordance with the original programme.

The last few months of the project were particularly frenetic. Each day brought another piece of the jigsaw together and included overcoming the interrelated technical, legal and logistical problems of each aspect of the airport operation.

Visiting the terminal now does it really look 10 years old?

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More Information

There is more information on the construction of the Airport on our Archive Page. Included are more picturesand iarticles by Roger Sainsbury (Mowlem's Director chiefly responsible for the Airport) and consulting engineer Don Butler who was responsible for much to the engineering design,

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An independent Consultative Committee established by London City Airport pursuant to Section 35 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982
Chairman:
John Adshead     Secretary: Stuart Innes
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Page last modified: 27th July 2007