By Henry Tenby (April, 2017)
Watch my full feature videos on this trip CLICK HERE
For North American flight hounds, the Avroliner RJ and BAe 146 series of airliners have largely been replaced by Embraers and Airbuses. There are no scheduled Avroliners operating in the US, whilst in Canada the type does appear on some First Air schedules (operated by Summit Air). Thus, it is not exactly easy nor affordable to experience Avroliner flying in North America.
Dublin-based low cost airline CityJet offers the Avroliner throughout their European network and I decided to sample their service. The Avroliner’s four-engine, short-runway capability makes it ideally suited for CityJet’s operations from London City airport. With their LCY-Dublin route being the most affordable within their network, it seemed the logical choice for the aviation enthusiast seeking a day-return for the sole purpose of experiencing flight aboard the Avroliner.
By booking a few weeks in advance, it was possible to secure a day return for our trip this past April, for the very reasonable price of GBP 94.60. By Canadian standards this represents a massive bargain, as compared to the cost of a First Air Avroliner flight in the Northwest Territories, where fares are generally high.
This particular fare class did not allow for advance seat selection earlier than 30 hours prior to departure. For the author this was fine as it was possible to secure excellent window seats the minute after the 30 hour rule passed.
For those who might want to stay at a London City Airport hotel the night prior to their flight, the ibis Styles London Excel hotel proved to be an excellent choice. Situated just a kilometre west of the airport, the ibis provided excellent service, an immaculate room, free wi-fi, free local and selected long distance calls, plus a full-English hot buffet breakfast, that included, eggs, ham, sausage, baked beans, cereals, yoghurts, toast, cheese, sliced meats, fruit juices, fresh fruits, and an assortment of coffees. Situated a 5 Euro Uber ride from the promenade runway photo location, it is the perfect hotel for spotters and flight hounds alike. Booked via Travelocity at an all-in rate of GBP 40 it was an excellent value and is highly recommended.
Having enjoyed the ibis breakfast between 0700 and 0730, the author took uber to the London City Airport (cost GBP Xxx) with boarding pass downloaded to his mobile, and was extremely impressed with the speed, efficiency and professionalism of the security screening staff.
Early morning weekdays at London City are extremely busy as this is a peak period of the day. Even with the throngs of passengers and line up, it still only took about ten minutes to clear security. The airport has gone to special efforts to have a dedicated staff member verbally reminding passengers to properly prepare their computers and fluids before entering the security line up. The end result is a highly efficient security experience for the passenger. Other airports would be well advised to study LCY’s procedures.
By clearing through security about two and a half hours prior to departure time, it allowed for a very relaxed visit in the boarding area. It seemed a luxury to enjoy a coffee and take some photos through the windows, which span the full length of the gate areas. For the aviation fan, the up-close apron perspective from the terminal gate area is completely different than aircraft spotting from the other side of the water.
Cityjet flight WX113 was called for boarding at 10 am, and after a ten minute wait in the small apron level holding area, passengers boarded Avroliner EI-RJI on the open ramp, which of course is an added bonus for aviation fans. There are no covered jetways at London City probably because of limited space and the logistical restrictions they would impose.
Settling into seat 09A there was an empty middle seat, and being a Tuesday morning, the flight was only about two thirds full. Which provided a very comfortable ride for all the passengers. We started engines right on our scheduled departure time of 1045 am, and given the amount of traffic, the airport’s efficiency continued.
After a slight hold and taxi, ten minutes later at 1055 we were lined up on London City’s runway xxx. The throttles were opened up for a very impressive run up against the brakes, 707, DC-8, or IL-62 style! It was a good ten seconds at maximum take-off power that the brakes were finally released, and we compressed into our seat backs as the Avroliner bolted down the runway.
Given our light load, we leapt from the runway after a short run and were climbing into the cool morning air just abeam the eastern edge of terminal building ramp area. The impressive short field take-off on its own was well worth the price of admission! At an altitude of perhaps three or four thousand feet, a short distance beyond the western confines of the airfield we commenced our northwesterly turn towards Dublin and the Irish Sea.
It was a lovely blue sky morning, sprinkled with puffy white clouds, and the sprawling English countryside below made the perfect setting for flying on a classic British jetliner over mother England. The fabulous trademark view of the Avroliner’s two wing-slung engines set against the open expanse of the fields below, served up a vivid visual comparison to classic inflight publicity photos from the 1950s of iconic Comets, Tridents, One Elevens and VC-10s, over the same countryside. It seemed like this was one of those flight experiences that one eventually looks back on with fond memories, when the era has passed and the experience can no longer be replicated.
The Cityjet flight attendants were polite and professional. Our inflight service consisted of a complimentary drink, and a “sweet or savoury” snack, meaning a bag of pretzels or a cookie. The Perrier on ice with a slice of lemon seemed like a good choice to savour the moment, as we flew towards the west coast of England and the Irish Sea.
The flight attendant kindly allowed a move up to seat 3F for the second half of the flight, to provide a different perspective and engine view for the arrival into Dublin. From our cruising altitude, the Irish Sea below seemed particularly rough and choppy with very large whitecaps randomly forming for as far as the eye could see. With the sun still shining through breaks in the clouds, the amazing shades of the green Irish landscape make it very obvious as to why the colour green is synonymous to Ireland, and the colour scheme of Aer Lingus!
After a wonderful 54 minutes in the air, our Avroliner touched down in Dublin at 1149 am, with a quick taxi to the Cityjet gate area at the end of the terminal xx finger. It should be noted the during boarding via the apron at London City and deplaning on the ramp at Dublin, no complaints or restrictions were levelled at the author when stopping to take a few photos and short videos of the aircraft. We have to be grateful to live in a civilized society.
With four hours to pass at Dublin airport between the arrival time, and the flight back to London City airport, the author found the perfect location to relax. Not wanting the hassle of leaving the gate area (and then running the risk of not finding a comfortable place to relax with an airfield or apron view), the best place to pass time is the ground level gates and seating area that spans the entire ramp level of the vintage, iconic, 1950s era terminal building at Dublin Airport.
Instead of going to the baggage claim area by the exit doors where the xx gate meets the main terminal building, take the hallway to the left to gates xxx xxx and xxx. This passage way leads to a semi-circular hall with hundreds of seats, and full-span windows with an apron view of the Ryanair gates on terminal xxx.
This provided a very quiet and peaceful setting to pass the time, and is highly recommended. The walls are adorned with historic photos of the airport, toilets are nearby, and free wifi makes for a very respectable place to relax or catch up on work. (Sorry about the “xxxx” fill spaces but I don’t know the various gate and terminal numbers and details.)
A similar number of passengers were on hand for the return flight WX118 to London Cit with boarding commencing at 1510 for the published 1530 departure time. This was a very non-rushed affair. There was no rushing the gate, no panic to get on the aircraft. Passengers boarded in small groups over a ten minute period, and the same back-end crew were operating flight 118. Comfortably seated in 12F aboard Avroliner EI-RJE, engines were started right on schedule at 1530, and the flight was airborne at 1545.
The slightly further rear seat gave excellent view of the Avroliner’s unique trailing wing flaps where they meet the fuselage, as they fan downward like a rooster’s wing during the approach and landing. The author again savoured a Perrier and the return flight was similarly enjoyable and relaxing as the earlier outbound journey. Having explained his interest in the aircraft to the flight attendants, they were most friendly and accommodating and there was no problem taking videos or photos of the wing views during the interesting phases of the flights.
After an hour or so in the air, we commenced our approach over East Ham, and landed on runway xx at London City with a total air time of sixty seven minutes.
The Avroliner simply rolled out toward the centre taxiway to the main apron area where we parked at the same gate 1 parking space that we departed from in the morning.
Stopping on the apron to take a few photos, literally within ten minutes of deplaning the author was on DLR train headed towards central London. Yet another testament to the convenience and efficiency of using London City Airport.
At the time of writing, Cityjet offers the best option for aviation fans seeking a reliable, guaranteed, cost effective Avroliner flight from London City. Whilst Swiss Avroliners can be seen frequently at London City operating the Geneva schedule, Swiss substitutes at will (using Embraers on the route) with no guarantee until one is strapped in and ready for departure.
Despite their age, there is still some life left in the aircraft, and its short runway capability does meet an operational need at London City with a lesser asset ownership cost than newer types. As long as low fuel prices prevail, the Avroliners will continue to serve specialist niches. But, as is all too common in the airline industry, situations can change over night. Thus, the Cityjet Avroliner experience from London City is an opportunity best not delayed.
Birmingham is another UK airport that presents flight hounds with a range of Avroliner opportunities. Both Swiss and Brussels still fly through Birmingham with Brussels being daily, and Swiss almost daily though in the traditional Lufthansa fashion. Swiss change the aircraft type to meet the demand for the flight. Consequently, the default aircraft type is a Helvetic Fokker 100 on the morning flight and an RJ100 on the evening flight, however, in reality both flights can be any one of the following types: a C Series, Fokker 100, RJ100 Avroliner, Embraer 190, Airbus 319, 320 or 321. Cello is also based at Birmingham with their BAe 146-200. CityJet will be operating one of the six daily KLM Amsterdam-Birmingham flights for the summer, with one or two RJ85 Avroliners being operated on wet lease to KLM.