History | Gatwick Airport

Our history

Gatwick 1978

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 56 airlines flying to 228 destinations and carrying over 45 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) signs 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: Concorde starts flying commercial flights 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 from 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.

2016: Gatwick opens the newly built Pier 1 in the South Terminal and the airport’s first early bag store. It also opens the world’s largest self-service bag drop zone in the North Terminal.

2017: Gatwick’s three largest airlines move terminals, with easyJet consolidating its operations in the North Terminal, British Airways moving its operation to the South Terminal and Virgin Atlantic shifting to the North Terminal.

2018: Gatwick marks 60 years since Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the airport.