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Our history

Our journey from private aerodrome to RAF base to the busiest single runway airport in the world

Story so far

We began life in 1930 as the Surrey Aero Club, a small flyers club. It was used exclusively by flying enthusiasts, but it did not stay this way for long. In 1934 we were licensed as a public aerodrome, to provide regular air services to Paris and act as a relief aerodrome for London Croydon Airport. We also gained our first scheduled flights (Hillman’s Airways to Belfast and Paris).

The descendants of Hillman’s Airways still fly from the airport, as British Airways. Today we have nearly 50 airlines flying to over 200 destinations. 

We’ve come a long way since the 1930s. our journey from private aerodrome to RAF base to the busiest single runway airport in the world. 


1935: Gatwick train station and the Beehive terminal, the world’s first circular terminal building, are built.

1936: The Beehive’s first scheduled flight, a Jersey Airways plane takes off to Paris. Gatwick is officially opened by Lord Swinton, the Secretary of State for Air. Gatwick had four landing strips made of grass and a subway connecting the Beehive terminal to the train 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.


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


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

1956: The airport 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 train link. Gatwick quickly gained a variety of British, European, American, African and Caribbean Airlines. More began to join as airports such as London Croydon close.


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 has three piers nearly 300m long and a terminal floor area of 9,300m2.


1970: The runway is extended to 2766m in 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) sign a legally binding agreement with West Sussex County Council not to build another runway for 40 years.


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.

1988: The North Terminal is opened by the Queen


1998: The main runway wis extended to 3316m.

1999: Easyjet begins operating from Gatwick.


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

2005: Gatwick’s luggage reclaim hall is extended and refurbished and pier 6 is built. This 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 to GIP. GIP announces a £1 billion investment program. This was later expanded to £2 billion in 2013.


2020: The global pandemic sees restrictions on international travel and flights are consolidated into one terminal. This is the first time that flights operate out of a single terminal since 1988.

2021: Many airlines restart flights from London Gatwick as travel restrictions ease. Wizz Air open a base at the airport and JetBlue launch transatlantic flights to the USA.

2022: The South Terminal reopens for flights after 18 months closure due to COVID-19. Vueling open a base at London Gatwick. Norse Atlantic launch transatlantic flights to the USA. We complete the resurfacing of our main runway in record time.

Northern Runway