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Gatwick Airport; Battling Throughout Its History

Sep 16, 2008
Currently Gatwick airport holds second spot in terms of size and passenger numbers in the UK charts. It has managed to achieve this position without a second runway, heavily using its single runway to great effect. In the last twelve months it is estimated that Gatwick saw thirty five million passengers come through the doors. While this figure is large, it only just over half of rival Heathrow's passenger numbers. Naturally with such huge numbers of people passing through the airport, a vast array of accompanying services such as shops, restaurants, car hire desks and cafes have built up.

Surprisingly it was Gatwick and not Heathrow that was the first airport in the UK to have a direct rail link to London. The rail link was created however not for the airport but for the nearby racecourse. This racecourse can actually be attributed to the original arising of the airport as it was due to people flying in to watch races that an airport nearby was constructed during the 1930s. The rail link went from the racecourse to the airport via an underground tunnel. This tunnel however was prone to flooding and was eventually closed.

The issue of flooding was such a problem that it jeopardised the future of the Gat wick site. Originally planners for the government felt the flooding of the site combined with the regular dense mists meant that Gatwick would not be a development possibility. At the time it was in competition with Stansted in Essex, with government planners weighing the benefits of each site. It was not until 1952 that the cabinet finally made the decision to develop Gatwick over Stansted.

One of the reasons the government chose Gatwick was because of its proximity to London; it already had a rail link and services such as hotels and car hire desks were already building up in the area. Additionally, with plans for the M25 underway, the government were acutely aware that access to Gatwick from anywhere in the country would be a possibility. In comparison, the rural location of Stansted did not lend itself well to immediate development; since this period however it has been built up considerably.

Unlike Heathrow Gatwick only has a single runway to handle the large amount of air traffic. This is mainly down to the fact that from the outset of development the site has had planning and construction restrictions placed upon it from local authorities. This restriction is set to be lifted in 2019 and airport chiefs are already planning their next move. The site may gain a second runway but more likely will be an increase in the accompanying services such as car hire desks, cafes, restaurants and shops as these bring high levels of income to the site. Something any modern airport must do to survive.

Today the air industry means catering for almost any need that the passenger may have. This may be the provision to hire a car or simply to provide them with somewhere to eat. However Gatwick is attempting to go much further, in the area there are a large amount of hotels ranging from luxury to basic cubicle rooms. In addition the site has business conference facilities as well as a number of different chaplains and places of worship.

From its early beginnings Gatwick has evolved from an airfield purely servicing the needs of a racecourse to a major airport that is currently second in the UK's list of top airports. A question remains as to whether the site will be able to expand as Stansted is doing and even whether its owning body BAA will still be in ownership within a year's time. No matter what challenges arise however Gatwick will continue to be an important link in the UK's transportation network.
About the Author
Travel expert Thomas Pretty looks at car hire Gatwick airport services and their role in funding the site.
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