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Heathrow Airport; Enjoying A Position Of Primacy For Sixty Years

Aug 3, 2008
The UK's largest and busiest airport is Heathrow and in terms of the world it is the third busiest globally. Being the UK's premier airport Heathrow has more international passengers pass through it than any other airport in the world, it is a melting pot of cultures and nations who are all there for one reason; air travel. Its preferential position so close to the centre of London has helped in its development as servicing the capital is one the most important functions performed by Heathrow airport. Combine this with the employment provided by auxiliary services such as restaurants, shops and car hire desks and its influence is immense. But what was the involved in this airports meteoric rise?

Most airports in the UK began their life as a military airfield and Heathrow is no different. During the First World War it was a military airbase although rather than sorties it was predominantly used as a research and development centre. The nearby airfield of Croydon was where the majority of London's civil air operations were conducted although after the war Croydon lost its primacy and Heathrow took its place. This shift in primacy was due to the fact that the Second World War saw heavy development at Heathrow making it a far more suitable airport for civilian travel; especially when the size of the newly developed planes is considered. After the war, the civilian use of the Heathrow site was reaffirmed.

The Queen was present at the laying of the first runways at Heathrow; this development was due to the widespread use of the jet plane and its encroachment into civilian spheres. The new runway meant further development of the terminal; once again this was ceremonially opened by the Queen. At this stage air travel was predominantly reserved for the rich and famous, so much so that the original designers of the Heathrow site expected all travellers to be chauffeur driven and hence no car parks were built. This was soon realised not to be the case and hence a large number of car parks were built to accommodate passenger vehicles and car hire provisions.

The seventies saw Heathrow install the world's first powered walkways to reduce the stress of passengers; a device now widely used in all airports across the planet. As planes grew so did the airport to accommodate the largest of commercial flyers. At this time it was the Boeing 747 although today the site has made special preparations for the use of the gargantuan Airbus A380. While Gatwick can boast the first direct rail link to London, Heathrow eventually caught up and in 1977 built an extension that coupled straight onto the existing London Underground network. As well as the underground links, the site also has an overland route that leaves from Paddington Station regularly.

At this point in time Heathrow was secured as the largest airport in the UK; this primacy was increased in the eighties when the airport saw thirty million passing through a year. During this period the site also added a fourth terminal purely for the use of British Airways planes, a company that has always had a preferential arrangement with the airport's management. The new terminal made the most of car hire provisions, shops, cafes and restaurants to extract further profits from the site.

Today nearly seventy million passengers use the airport on an annual basis. As a result of increased numbers a fifth terminal has been added. Development at the site is set to continue although other airports are being expanded to relieve some of the pressure on Heathrow, namely Stansted in Essex. As one of the world's busiest airports in the world however it is doubtful that any airport in the UK will be able to match Heathrow's size and capacity in the foreseeable future.
About the Author
Air travel expert Thomas Pretty looks into how car hire Heathrow Airport services have been influential in the site's development.
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