Of London City Airport charts decades of growth and stunning changes to its Docklands location

  • London City Airport: 30 Years in Photographs is a free pop-up photography exhibition in Jubilee Place in the Lower Mall of Canary Wharf
  • It opens today (Thursday 26 October 2017) exactly 30 years since the first commercial flights, and closes on 7th Nov
  • The exhibition includes 52 images, including new aerial photography, amazing archive pictures, and a royal section which documents the many visitors from The Royal Family
  • New work by aviation photographer Ben Walsh captures the present day view of several archive images conveying compelling changes to London since the airport opened in 1987
  • A before and after ‘slider’ picture gallery, featuring 20 pairs of images, has been published on the airport’s website to illustrate the contrasts

To mark the 30th anniversary of London City Airport, a new photography exhibition opens today in Canary Wharf. London City Airport: 30 Years in Photographs documents the history, growth, evolution and future of the airport, and is free to view in the Lower Mall of Jubilee Place.

The opening date of the exhibition coincides with the 30th anniversary of the first commercial flights, which began on 26 October 1987, with arrivals from Plymouth and Brussels. Today the airport serves nearly 50 destinations and has welcomed a combined total of 55.5m passengers since it opened.

A highlight of the exhibition is new work by Greenwich-based aviation photographer, Ben Walsh and aerial photographer, Andrew Holt, who captured the present day view of historic airport photographs, dating back to the 1950s, and including photos taken by Vic Abbott, a NATS air traffic control engineer who has worked at the airport since 1987. The 3-week 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.

The resulting ‘before and after’ images demonstrate the remarkable change which the airport, and its home in London’s Royal Docks, have undergone, with a wider selection published on the airport’s website. A solitary One Canada Square in 1992 is now dominated by the towers of Canary Wharf; skylines in the distance populated with the O2, Gherkin, ‘Cheesegrater’ and ‘Walkie-Talkie’ – non-existent in 1987; and to the north, buildings now replaced by the University of East London.

Declan Collier, Chief Executive Officer of London City Airport, said: “London City Airport’s success story is a remarkable one and this exhibition allows us to tell it to the public, beyond the walls of the airport, in a creative way.

“The airport is part of the fabric of London’s Royal Docks and to see these photographs truly brings to life the role the airport has played in East London’s regeneration.”

Ben Walsh, photographer, said: “This was a fascinating commission by London City Airport thanks to its unique location and the speed of change which has taken place in East London and the surrounding city skyline. “With my specialism in aviation photography, to see this work presented in Canary Wharf alongside the originals brings in to sharp focus the airport’s 30 years of achievement.”

The exhibition is divided into six sections, which are largely chronological in order. The first section examines the Royal Docks before the airport was built on the peninsula between Royal Albert Dock and King George V Dock. Fascinating images, many from the Museum of London’s collection, illustrate the commercial activity in the docks during the 19th and 20th centuries, when they were some of the busiest and largest docks in the world.

Images portraying the origins of the airport provide a glimpse of how the airport came to be, including the first test flight to prove the premise of a Docklands airport - on Heron Quays on 27 June 1982 (now part of the Canary Wharf development, close to the JP Morgan building).

Retro images show the airport in its early days, including the original terminal front, the brasserie and check-in area. In 1988, the first full year of operation, the airport welcomed just 133,000 annual passengers, but last year it welcomed a record breaking 4.6 million. Many of these early photos are by Vic Abbott, a NATS air traffic control engineer who has been a keen photographer for 30 years, from his vantage point above the airfield.

The exhibition also recognises the longstanding relationship with The Royal Family, ever since HRH The Prince of Wales laid the foundation stone in May 1986 and HM The Queen officially opened the airport on 5 November 1987. A section dedicated to royal visitors includes photographs of the Queen returning to the airport in 2002 and again in 2012, and a visit from Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1992, when she opened a runway extension and visited air traffic controllers.

A final section considers the airport today and in the future, with new aerial photography by Andrew Holt, taken from the air in summer 2017 and presenting a jaw-dropping view of the airport and its close proximity to central London to the west. The exhibition closes with an artist’s impressions of what the airport will look like following the £400 million City Airport Development Programme, construction for which begins in early 2018 and is due for completion in 2021

The exhibition has been designed, printed and installed by Standard8, with support from Canary Wharf Group plc. To mark the anniversary, London City Airport has also released seven updated artist’s illustrations of what the airport will look like following its £400 million City Airport Development Programme. The plans include a new parallel taxiway, seven new aircraft stands, and an extended passenger terminal which will increase the existing terminal in size by around 40,000m². Enabling works are now under way, with construction beginning early in 2018.

London City Airport: 30 Years in Photographs can be seen in Jubilee Place in Canary Wharf from 26 October until 7 November 2017