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To mark the 30th anniversary of London City Airport, the airport commissioned Greenwich-based aviation photographer, Ben Walsh, and aerial photographer Andrew Holt, to capture the present day view of historic airport photographs, including images of London’s Royal Docks in the 1950s, and more contemporary photos by Vic Abbott, a NATS air traffic control engineer who has worked at the airport since 1987. The commission saw Ben scale the roof of the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery, access the runway with airport operations, and climb to the top of the air traffic control tower, in order to get the perfect shot from the right angle.

Some of these images appear in a photography exhibition called London City Airport: 30 Years in Photographs which is free to view on Jubilee Place in Canary Wharf from 26 October until 7 November 2017.


London's Royal Docks, where London City Airport sits today, have been for centuries a hub for trade and investment. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the expansion of the British Empire and the advent of steam power meant huge docks were constructed to accommodate the largest ships, carrying cargoes of all varieties.

Before: London’s Royal Docks, looking west, c.1950.
After: The view from the air in 2017, with the O2, ExCeL London and Thames Barrier visible.
[Andrew Holt]

Before: King George V Dock and Royal Albert Dock, looking east, c.1950.
After: The runway of London City Airport today, constructed on the peninsula between the docks where ships used to dock.
[Andrew Holt]

Containerisation and advances in technology led to the decline of the Docks and its closure to commercial traffic in 1981.

Before: A PLA survey photograph of the disused docks in c.1982, looking south towards the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery in Silvertown.
After: Today it is London City Airport's busy airfield, welcoming around 80,000 aircraft departures and arrivals each year.
[Ben Walsh]

Before: An access road on the disused dock, c.1982, looking west.
After: The view from the runway towards the familiar skyline of the City of London and Canary Wharf, with the 'Cheesegrater' and One Canada Square visible in the background.
[Ben Walsh]

Before: The Royal Docks in the early 1980s.
After: London City Airport in 2017.
[Andrew Holt]

Before: The Royal Docks in the early 1980s, as former warehouses were demolished to make way for a new runway.
After: The airport today, facing south towards the Tate & Lyle refinery, and the London Borough of Newham building to the north.
[Andrew Holt]

Before: An access road on the disused dock, c.1982, looking east.
After: The view from the runway looking east as a Flybe Bombardier Q400 taxis upon arrival.
[Ben Walsh]

Before: On 27 June 1982, Captain Harry Gee landed a Dash 7 aircraft on Heron Quays, to confirm the feasibility of a 'short take-off and landing' (STOL) port in the Docklands.
After: Today the JP Morgan building in Canary Wharf stands where Captain Gee landed the plane.
[Ben Walsh]

Before: An aerial view, looking north east, of the completed airport in 1987. Its runway was 762m long and in the first full year of operation welcomed just 133,000 passengers.
After: The airport today has a runway length of 1,199m and in 2016 welcomed 4.6 million passengers.
[Andrew Holt]

Before: The completed passenger terminal in 1987, built to accommodate around 1 million passengers per year.
After: A British Airways E190 takes off today, above the passenger terminal. In the foreground, the DLR extension which was completed in 2005.

Before: The front of the passenger terminal in 1987. The airport was built in 18 months at a cost of £34 million.
After: The terminal in 2017.
[Ben Walsh]

Before: The terminal front in 1987. The airport initially served just 3 destinations (Paris CDG, Plymouth and Brussels).
After: The terminal front in 2017, with the DLR extension in the foreground.
[Ben Walsh]

Before: The check in area in 1987.
After: The check in area in 2017, with 12 airlines serving circa 50 destinations. The passenger terminal was reconfigured in 2010 to increase space and create a new first floor.
[Ben Walsh]

Before: The aircraft parking stands, featuring London City Airways and Brymon Airways aircraft on the west side of the terminal building in c.1988.
[Vic Abbott]
After: The same view west in 2017, with larger aircraft and ExCeL London to the northwest, taken from the air traffic control tower.
[Ben Walsh]

Before: An RJ aircraft on approach in 1992, from the west. A solitary One Canada Square of the Canary Wharf development sits in the background - then the tallest building in the UK.
After: An aircraft on the same approach in 2017, with Canary Wharf dominating the skyline.

Before: The air traffic control tower and operations vehicles in 1987
After: The same view today. In 2019 the airport will begin operating a digital air traffic control tower – the UK’s first.

Before: A Eurocity Express De Havilland Dash 7 aircraft touches down in c.1988, capable of carrying 40 passengers.
[Vic Abbott]
After: The SWISS Airlines Bombardier C Series taxis on the runway in 2017 – the largest commercial aircraft to operate at LCY, capable of carrying 125 passengers.
[Ben Walsh]

Before: The departures corridor on the West Pier of the terminal c.1988
After: Following a £20 million investment, this area of departures was upgraded in 2017 to include 84% more floor space and 600 additional seats.
[Ben Walsh]

Before: The check in area in 1987. Since 1987, there have been over 1.5 million commercial flights, 12,000 private or business flights, and over 55.5 million passengers.
After: The check in area in 2017, with the new first floor which was created in 2010 to increase space and create a new security screening area.
[Ben Walsh]

Before: The check in area and escalator leading to departures in 1987.
After: Passengers head towards the departure gates in 2017

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