BA Flying Nonstop From London/City to New York

A318, British Airways, LCY - London/City

It’s not often that I see a route announcement come out from an airline that makes me do a double-take. I mean, there are always crazy things in this industry, but I expect that by now. Today’s announcement that British Airways will start transatlantic service from tiny London/City Airport definitely made me drop everything. That post I was planning for today? It’ll have to wait. This one is just too cool.

As they’re wont to do these days, BA was short on detail but they felt it was worth it to put out a broad release about their plans. It’s at least a year away, but once British Airways takes delivery of their specially configured A318 aircraft with 32 flat bed business class seats onboard, they’ll begin flying nonstop between London/City Airport and New York twice daily. This is just about all we know. So many questions . . .

Will physics actually allow them to do this? London/City is one tiny airport. It was basically carved out of the Docklands on the Thames about 20 years ago, and there’s not much room. The runway is just shy of 5,000 ft. That’s about 800 ft SHORTER than the longest runway at John Wayne/Orange County. It’s about 1,500 ft shorter than the longest runway at Chicago/Midway. It’s less than HALF the length of the runways at London/Heathrow. Still can’t grasp it? Take a look at this shot via Google Maps. That’s City up top, with its runway on the right side and Heathrow’s south runway below.
08_02_01 lcylhr
Seeing that makes me amazed that they can get this plane off the ground. The runway is so short that aircraft have to receive special approvals to fly there. The A318 received its approval less than 2 years ago, and it’s by far the biggest plane that can land there. So, they’ll only have 32 seats onboard, and that has to help it, but I’m still not convinced it’ll be able to make it on the flight to New York without a stop.

If it needs to stop, is it still worth it? Yep, probably. Most definitely if you’re going to Canary Wharf, the large business district. You’ll be just a couple miles away from there, and you only need to check in 15 minutes prior to departure. So, you’ll still probably save time over driving to Heathrow. More importantly, you’ll save time over flying out of Stansted as well. That was always Eos’ selling point – get to Canary Wharf faster from Stansted than Heathrow. This blows that away, and has to make Eos nervous.

But let’s say they do have to stop. Can they stop in Ireland and gain pre-clearance? Flights from Ireland to the US have a special arrangement. There are US immigration officers over there who pre-clear you into the US before your flight. If this flight has to stop, maybe they can get everyone off and pre-clear them while the plane is refueling so that they can be ready to go once they hit the ground in New York.

Um, where exactly will they hit the ground in New York? They have left out any mention of which airport they’ll use on this side of the Pond. Could they be considering something really cool? Teterboro is the private jet mecca just across the Hudson River. Would they be able to fly in there? That would make for an extremely convenient operation on both ends with short check-in times each way (though they say they’ll have 15 minute check in at any New York airport this uses). I suppose it’s possible that they’re just waiting to figure out if they can fly to JFK or if they don’t have enough slots, but I’d like to think that for such an unconventional service as this one, they’ll be all over the possible alternatives.

What do I think about this? I think this is an absolutely fantastic move. It’s something that I never thought could be done, but it’s likely to do very well. This is not going to be for the price sensitive, but when it comes to convenience, this will be comparable to a private jet (depending upon where they go in New York). With only 32 seats onboard each of the flights, they don’t need that many people to make this work. Combine that with some solid earnings today, and it’s a good day to be British Airways.

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23 comments on “BA Flying Nonstop From London/City to New York

  1. Doesn’t matter if they go to JFK or EWR if they cut a deal with the really, really, cool helicopter people. *that* was awesome. I was from midtown into the Continental lounge while my colleagues were still stuck in traffic in Manhattan.

  2. They don’t need to stop along the way. A light load on an A318 Elite has enough range.

  3. Bryan – True, an A318 could make it with that load . . . if it had a longer runway. But with just shy of 5,000 ft, they will have to stop. I spoke with someone at BA (additional post forthcoming) and he confirmed that would be the case.

  4. Andy – I’ll just assume BA has done their homework here. They say they’ll have to stop, so I’ll believe them. BTW, those range numbers can be deceiving. When you’re flying overwater routes, you need a lot more fuel onboard that you don’t plan to use.

  5. I doubt there’s a problem Eastbound, but Westbound (think winter headwinds) they’ll need a stop.

    Plan is to stop in Shannon, Ireland. (I would have expected Gander or something.)

    But I doubt they’ll do immigration pre-clearance. Just add some fuel and go, they should be able to manage in less than an hour for sure.

  6. Next up, converted Osprey’s making the trip directly from LCY to JRB.

    But seriously BA is hitting upon dynamite.. Ironic the airline within an airline concept doesn’t work on the cheap side, but works on the high end side…

  7. Like you, I’m blown away. What a bold move — and, I agree, likely a good one! Even if the planes must make a stop (especially westbound), my guess is that it won’t add enough time to the trip to make it less of a success. Even today, lots of the new 757 TATL routes to the Midwest (DTW/CLE) are forced to make short fuel stops headed westbound, and they’re still doing well — and still preferred to connecting flights by many Midwesterners.

  8. Hmm.. One thing I’m curious about is given that these are lie flat seats would the usual reclining rules still apply? If for example someone wanted to sleep a majority of the trip, would they have to put up their seat backs for the fuel stop? I thought that the seat back rule was mostly about evacuation, and given that your seat back recline impeeds the evacuation times of those behind you.

  9. I think it is a nice idea to fly from london directly to new york withour so many stopovers. It would be a good idea for businessman and those flying with limited time. and it goes directly to the place you want.

  10. According to Air Transport Intelligence (sub. required) there definitely will be a westbound fuel stop, undetermined where it will be at this point, for the reasons everyone here already speculated about…can’t load up enough gas for a takeoff on that runway. Eastbound won’t have a stop.

    Bold move…but the stop is definitely going to add 45 minutes to the flight. Not sure how that’s going to fly with pax

  11. Full article copy/pasted below

    BA all-business flights to include westbound fuel stop
    Max Kingsley-Jones, London (01Feb08, 14:13 GMT, 333 words)

    British Airways will include a westbound refuelling stop as part of its new all-business Airbus A318 transatlantic service from London City next year.

    It has yet to decide where the stop will be on the New York-bound service. Eastbound flights will be non-stop.

    The airline today revealed it had placed its first A318 order, with a deal for two aircraft for delivery in 2009. The aircraft will be powered by CFM International CFM56 engines.

    Nominally a 100-seat aircraft, the A318 will be configured by BA with 32 lie-flat seats. The service will operate twice a day to New York, although BA has yet to disclose which specific US airport it will serve.

    “The flights will operate non-stop from New York to London City but will make a refuelling stop when flying westbound,” says BA. The airline adds that it is “talking to a number of airports” about where the stop will be, although sources say that Shannon is the frontrunner.

    BA says that the A318s will be operated by its mainline division and will not be equipped with auxiliary fuel tanks.

    According to London City Airport, the westbound technical stop is required as the aircraft cannot lift sufficient fuel for the transatlantic flight from the downtown airport’s short runway, which has a take-off run of 1,199m (3,930ft), given the airfield’s “obstacle environment”.

    The connection will be the first scheduled service from London City to use the A318, which has been certified to conduct the steep approach required to serve the airport.

    It is also the first transatlantic airline service from the airport, although flights have been operated by Falcon 900EX business jets.

    The move to launch an all-business service marks a departure for BA and pitches it into competition with transatlantic premium players such as Eos and Silverjet.

    Silverjet, which operates Boeing 767s on non-stop flights from London Luton, is playing down the impact of the BA move. Chief executive Lawrence Hunt claims BA’s plan is a “ringing endorsement for Silverjet’s business model”.

    Source: Air Transport Intelligence news

  12. Nicholas – I don’t recall if you have to bring your seatback up on BA or not, but when I flew ANZ in October, you could have your seat at any level of recline for departure and arrival. The reality is, however, that any stop will be within the first hour of the flight, so you’ll still be able to recline for the majority of the flight.

    I’m posting my followup interview this morning, sorry for the delay.

  13. Why not just ferry passengers from the London/City airport to Heathrow via helicopter and have them board a “real” aircraft :)

  14. Oliver,
    They’re trying to give people the convenience of not having to switch aircraft. I’m sure if they could they’d refuel in midair.. Hmm.. maybe Boeing and Airbus will offer that as an option on their 737/A320 replacements…

  15. @Bernardo: SDU-GRU is only 185 nautical miles — LCY-NYC is some 20 times as long! For such a short distance you only need little fuel. LCY’s runway is at least 500 ft shorter than the minimum runway length for the maximum take off weight. The 318 needs to be full in fuel (maximum take off weight) in order to make it non-stop to NY.

  16. If the westbound can make it to Halifax, they should try to clear customs there. Then, they could fly into LGA.

  17. Making a dummy booking on the BA website reveals the following – Customs will be cleared in Shannon, and the checkin time at LCY is 20 minutes (not 15, but still very good) …

    Stopover at Shannon

    •The London City to New York (JFK) flight will stop to refuel at Ireland’s Shannon airport.
    •Passengers must clear U.S. Customs and Immigration at Shannon.*
    •This is expected to take 45 minutes.
    •On arrival at JFK airport, passengers will bypass passport control.*
    •The New York (JFK) to London City flight is non-stop.
    * US Immigration and Customs clearance at Shannon may not always be available due to regulatory requirements.

    Additional features – LCY to JFK
    •Operated by British Airways
    •32 seat business class only service
    •Stay connected onboard with OnAir email, text and web services
    •Clear US Customs and Immigration while refuelling at Shannon
    •Arrive in New York as a domestic passenger and avoid immigration queues
    •Check in at London City 20 minutes before departure with hold baggage
    •The most productive way to fly between London and New York

    Additional features – JFK to LCY
    •Operated by British Airways
    •Catch up with emails before you land with OnAir services
    •Non stop service
    •Enjoy a treatment in the Elemis travel spa at JFK
    •Dine before your flight in the Terraces lounge
    •Club World sleeper service maximises sleep time
    •Take away breakfast option allows you sleep even longer

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