London Gatwick Airport is set to celebrate 60 years since it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on June 9, 1958. At the time, Gatwick was the first airport in the world to combine air, road and train travel in one close-knit single unit.
The £7.8m (US$10.4m) construction project took more than two-and-a-half years to complete and marked a new beginning for air travel in the UK.
Increased passenger demand and the modern age of air travel, with the introduction of aircraft like the Jumbo Boeing 747-400, required three runway extensions in 1964, 1970 and 1973 – the latter enabling non-stop flights from the US West Coast.
With an ever-increasing number of passenger planes arriving daily, Gatwick opened its new control tower in 1984, which at the time was the tallest in the UK, and Gatwick Express was launched later that year.
In 1988, the Queen returned to open the £200m (US$268m) North Terminal, which in turn saw the main terminal renamed as the South. Just 10 years later, a fourth runway extension was required, with EasyJet’s residence at the airport starting the following year in 1999.
The noughties began with extensions to both the North and South terminals, costing £60m (US$80m), and this was followed by the construction of the biggest air passenger bridge in the world – which stretches 194m (636ft) in length.
In 2012, new owners Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) announced a £2.5bn (US$3.3bn) investment program. That year also saw Emirates start its scheduled A380 service at Gatwick – making it one of the very few airports at the time that could accommodate the next generation of passenger airplanes.
Four years later, Gatwick opened the world’s largest self-service bag-drop zone and in 2017, EasyJet, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic all swapped terminals as part of the biggest operational reshuffle in Gatwick’s history.
Discussing the anniversary, Andy Pule, head of terminal operations at Gatwick, said, “Throughout its history, Gatwick has remained at the forefront of innovation, investing billions over the years to ensure that we are constantly pushing the boundaries and delivering the best possible experience for our passengers.
“It’s been an unbelievable 60 years at Gatwick and we have had a magnificent impact in making air travel accessible to millions of people.
“Now, as we move into our seventh decade, we look ahead to continuing our success story, with more global connections regularly being added to our thriving route network, and more pioneering solutions being provided to enhance the passenger experience.”
Notable events in Gatwick’s history:
1958: Official opening by Queen Elizabeth II
Following a £7.8m (US$10.4m) renovation, Gatwick is officially opened by the Queen.
1964: Runway extended
Gatwick extends its runway by 370m (1,214ft) to 2,500m (8,200ft). By the next year, the airport has three piers, all nearly 300m long, and a terminal area of 9,300m² (100,100ft²).
1970: Runway extended further
A second 267m (876ft) extension of Gatwick’s runway is completed, bringing it to 2,766m (9,075ft).
1973: Runway extended even further
The third extension of Gatwick’s runway is completed, bringing it to a length of 3,098m (10,164ft) and allowing for non-stop flights to the US West Coast.
1984: New control tower and Gatwick Express launched
Gatwick opens its new air traffic control tower, the tallest in the UK at the time. The Gatwick Express is launched, while Virgin Atlantic’s first commercial flight takes off from Gatwick.
1985: BA begins commercial Concorde flights from Gatwick
The inaugural flight takes off to JFK.
1988: North Terminal opens
The £200m (US$268m) North Terminal is opened by the Queen.
1998: Fourth runway extension
Due to Gatwick’s increasing global connections, the runway is extended to 3,316m (10,880ft).
1999: EasyJet moves in
EasyJet begins operating from Gatwick.
2000: Terminals extended
Both terminals are extended at a cost of £60m (US$80m).
2005: Making connections
Gatwick’s Pier 6 is built and connected to the airport by the largest air passenger bridge in the world.
2009: New owners
New owners, Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), announces a £2.5bn (US$3.3bn) investment program.
Emirates begins its scheduled A380 service at Gatwick.
2016: Making check-in easy
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: Airline moves
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.