The history of Gatwick aiport

Gatwick Airport began life in 1930 as the Surrey Aero Club, a small flyers club, used exclusively by flying enthusiasts - However it did not stay this way for long. Four  years later Gatwick was licensed as a public aerodrome, intended to provide regular air services to Paris and act as a relief aerodrome for London Croydon Airport. In this year Gatwick also gained its first scheduled flights – Hillman’s Airways to Belfast and Paris.

The descendants of Hillman’s Airways still fly from Gatwick; though you might know them better as the company they later formed a part of - British Airways. Today, they have been joined by roughly 45 airlines flying to 200 destinations and carrying over 38 million passengers.

We’ve come a long way since the 30s. Take a look below to see the key points in our journey from private aerodrome to RAF base to the busiest single-runway airport in the world. 


1930s

1935: Gatwick Railway station and the Beehive terminal (the world’s first circular terminal building) are built.

1936: The Beehive sees its first schedule flight, a Jersey Airways plane to Paris. Gatwick is officially opened by Lord Swinton, the Secretary of State for Air. At this time Gatwick has 4 landing strips made of grass and a subway connecting the Beehive terminal to the railway station.

1939: World War 2 begins and the airport is requisitioned by the Air Ministry. Gatwick becomes a base for RAF night-fighters and an Army cooperation squadron.

1940s

1946: Gatwick is decommissioned but continues operating as civil airport for charter airlines and cargo flights.

1950s

1950: Gatwick is designated as London’s second airport.

1956: Gatwick is closed for a £7.8 million renovation, carried out by Alfred McAlpine.

1958: The new Gatwick is officially opened by the Queen. It was the world’s first airport with a direct railway link. Gatwick quickly gained a variety of British, European, American, African and Caribbean Airlines. More join as airports such as London Croydon close.

1960s

1963: The ministry for Aviation transfers all regular charter flights from Heathrow to Gatwick.

1964: Gatwick extends its runway to 2500m long. By the next year, the airport had 3 piers nearly 300m long and a terminal floor area of 9,300m2

Aircraft on stand 1978

1970s

1970: The runway is extended to 2766m length, enabling jet flights to the US east coast to depart from Gatwick.

1973: The runway is extended again to 3098m, enabling non-stop flights to the US west coast.

1974: Gatwick Airport becomes part of the borough of Crawley.

1979: BAA (the owners of Gatwick Airport) sings a legally binding agreement with West Sussex County Council not to build another runway for 40 years.

1980s

1982: Pope John Paul II arrives at Gatwick for his tour of the UK.

1983: Work begins on the North Terminal.

1984: Gatwick opens its new air traffic control tower, the tallest in the UK at the time. The Gatwick express is launched.

1985: The first commercial Concorde flight departs from Gatwick.

1987: Gatwick overtakes New York JFK to be the world’s second busiest airport.

1990s

1988: The North Terminal is opened by the Queen.

1998: The main runway is extended to 3316m.

1999: Easyjet begins operating form Gatwick.

2000s

2000: Both terminals are extended at the cost of £60 million.

2005: Gatwick’s baggage reclaim hall is extended and refurbished and pier 6 is built – It is connected to the airport by the largest air passenger bridge in the world.

2009: BAA is forced by the Competition Commission to sell Gatwick Airport to GIP. GIP announces a £1 billion investment program, (later expanded to £2 billion in 2013).

2010s

2012: Emirates starts the first scheduled A380 service at Gatwick.

2013: The rebuild of pier 1 begins. Thomson Airways begins the first 787 Dreamliner service, a ‘hub-buster’ aircraft designed to fly long distances routes point-to-point without stopping at a hub airport.

2014: Gatwick’s main runway handles a record 906 movements, or one aircraft taking off or landing every 63 seconds. This is the first time a commercial airport handled more than 900 movements with only one runway.