Why Do Aircraft Complete Steep Approaches At London City?

London City Airport is known for many things. For example, it is the only airport to be served by the Docklands Light Railway. Furthermore, it is also comfortably the closest airport to the British capital’s key business districts. However, it also stands out from an operational perspective due to the nature of its approach path. This requires arriving aircraft to descend towards the airport at a steeper angle than elsewhere. Let’s look at why this is necessary.

BA CityFlyer Arrival London City
Landings at City often feature striking urban architecture in the background. Photo: London City Airport

How steep is the approach?

The angle at which arriving aircraft must descend towards London City Airport (LCY) has changed over the course of its history. As we explored in a recent article charting the airport’s history, the facility opened in 1987.

At this time, its runway was just 1,080 meters long, significantly limiting which aircraft could use the airport. Those that were permitted included the likes of the de Havilland Canada Dash 7 and the Dornier 228. These aircraft had to descend at an angle of 7.5 degrees.

1992 saw a runway expansion that stretched London City’s landing strip by nearly 40%, taking it to 1,508 meters in length. This also saw the glide path angle reduced to 5.5 degrees. The expansion allowed regional jets like the Avro RJ series to serve the airport.

London City Airport Dash 7
A Dash 7 making a characteristically steep approach into LCY. Photo: RuthAS via Wikimedia Commons

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

The reason for the different angle

As we can see, London City’s approach angle has reduced over time from 7.5 to 5.5 degrees. Nonetheless, it is still significantly steeper than the average European airport, which tends to be around 3 degrees. As such, pilots flying into LCY have to be trained specifically for such flights. Similarly, aircraft have to receive approval to land at the facility.

The need for aircraft to approach at such an angle is mainly to do with the proximity of tall objects around the airport. It also helps tackle the issue of noise pollution. As its name suggests, one of the airport’s greatest advantages is its proximity to the British capital’s city center. However, this also means that, unlike other airports located further from their respective cities, it is surrounded by urban and residential areas.

BA CityFlyer ERJ 170 at LCY
LCY is situated a stone’s throw from London’s key financial districts. Photo: Getty Images

As such, to minimize disruption to local residents and businesses, the airport has several noise abatement procedures in place. One of these is a limit to its operating hours, and the steep approach also plays a key role. The airport’s Noise Action Plan states this “helps keep aircraft higher for longer, reducing the noise impact on local communities.”

Embraer E190-E2 recently certified

In June 2021, Simple Flying reported that a new aircraft type had received certification to complete London City’s steep approaches. The aircraft in question? Embraer’s next-generation E190-E2 regional jet. This aircraft had first visited LCY in July 2018, wearing its conspicuous ‘Profit Hunter’ livery, complete with a shark design on its nose.

Embraer, London City, Steep Approach
The Embraer E190-E2 has received steep approach certification for London City Airport. Photo: Embraer

Just under three years later, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certified the type to operate commercial services into London City. This will come as good news to its operators, as the older E190 has been a common sight at the airport. Cesar Pereira, Embraer’s VP of Sales and Marketing for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, stated:

“Embraer aircraft represent 70% of aircraft movements at this iconic airport, in the heart of one of the world’s greatest cities. This is a source of great pride for Embraer, London City feels like home. We look forward to E190-E2s joining the Embraer jets already flying from London City.”

Did you know the reasons behind aircraft’s steep approaches into London City? Have you noticed the difference in angle compared to other airports when landing there? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.