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Heathrow Airport's Expansion And Growth From The Twenties To Today

Jul 24, 2008
Heathrow airport is the UK's largest and busiest whilst being the third busiest in the world. Destinations from the airport span the globe, the fact that it sees more international passengers than any other airport worldwide stands testament to this. Only fifteen miles from central London it has grown with the city giving inhabitants and tourists alike a gateway to the world. When combined with accompanying services such as car hire provisions, a rail link and bus services it can truly be considered the hub of a transport network. But what is the history behind this major airport?

Like many of the airports in the UK the life of Heathrow began as a military airfield in the First World War. During the thirties it was known as Great Western Aerodrome and was predominantly used for the testing and assembly of aircraft. At this time, Croydon airport was the primary airport servicing London. During the Second World War the airport was requisitioned by the RAF and used as a transfer base. It was at this time that the airport was officially born; runways were built and the airport was given the name Heathrow after a hamlet that had to be demolished for its construction. After this the airport operated purely civilian flights.

In the fifties the first slab of the new runway was put in place by the Queen. The new runways were needed to accommodate the new jet engine planes. In 1955 the queen returned to open the terminal building. Amazingly in an era where air travel was reserved for the rich and famous, Heathrow was handling around fourteen million passengers annually, quite a feat for the time. Such was the exclusivity of air travel that the original designers of the airport did not feel the need for car parks, presuming that all passengers would turn up in chauffeur driven cars. Today however, car parking is a major element of the airport, with car hire provisions for those who do not want to park up.

During the seventies the UK's first moving walkways were installed in terminal 3 as a way to reduce the distances walked by passengers. Also in the seventies the runways were once again extended to accommodate the large jumbo jets that were becoming the norm for transatlantic and long haul flights. The rail link was also added in 1977; a special line was added to the London Underground to make the transition from city to airport that much easier. In addition, an above ground rail link was added from London's Paddington Station.

In the eighties the number of passengers passing through the airport climbed to thirty million annually. Evidently the airport needed more space and yet another terminal was planned. Terminal 4 opened in 1986 and became the home of all British Airways flights from the airport. At this point BAA, the body that owns Heathrow was privatised, this meant that government funding was not as readily available for development. Subsequently BAA has found other ways to generate income from passengers. This has been achieved by increasing the amount of retail space in the terminals; increasing numbers of shops, eateries and car hire companies that all have to pay the airport for hosting outlets within terminal buildings.

Today around 67 million passengers use Heathrow annually. Along with another development, Terminal 5, its position as the UK's major airport is somewhat secured. The government has earmarked it for yet further expansion along with Stansted in Essex. As the hub of the UK's air travel, the position of primacy that Heathrow enjoys is unlikely to change in the next fifty years.
About the Author
Air travel expert Thomas Pretty looks into how car hire Heathrow airport services have been instrumental in its development.
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