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Gatwick celebrates 60 years

Photo: Queen Elizabeth II steps from a Heron of the Queen's Flight on her arrival at the new Gatwick Airport, for its official opening.


Gatwick Airport, 29.5 miles (47.5 km) south of Central London, celebrates the 60th anniversary of it opening in its current form on June 9.

Following a two-and-a-half years, £7.8m construction project, Queen Elizabeth II marked the completion of the work on June 9, 1958 when it became first airfield in the world to combine air, road and train travel in a single, close-knit unit.  The transformation of the site which had previously been served by the Beehive terminal to the south of the current complex, transformed Gatwick into a global travel hub.  It became the first airport in the world to have a direct railway link, allowing passengers to seamlessly change from surface to air transportation.

Traffic was initially slow to take off, but increased demand, the modern age and the introduction of jets and then larger aircraft such as the Boeing 747 led to runway extensions in 1964, 1970 and 1973, the latter enabling non-stop flights from the US West Coast to begin.  A new air traffic control tower was added in 1984, which at the time was the tallest in the UK.  Later the same year the Gatwick Express rail link to Central London was launched.

The Queen returned in 1988 to open the £200m North Terminal, which in turn saw the main terminal renamed as the South. Just ten years later, a fourth runway extension became necessary.  easyJet, now the airport’s largest airline tenant, arrived in 1999.  Further extensions costing £60m were added to both the North and South terminals in the new the millennium, and these projects were followed by the 640ft (194m) long passenger bridge, the longest in the world, which spans a taxiway and is high enough for 747s to pass underneath.

Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) acquired the airport as part of a £2.5bn investment program.  That same year also saw Emirates start scheduled A380 service to Gatwick, which was one of very few airports at the time that could accommodate the Airbus behemoth.  Four years later in 2016, the world’s largest self-service bag drop zone was completed.  Finally last year saw the three largest airlines – easyJet, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic – swap terminals in just 72 hours, marking the the biggest operational reshuffle in Gatwick’s history.  For many years it was the busiest single-runway in the world, although the management team have ambitions to add a second airstrip to the south in the future.

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.”

Gatwick  is the UK’s second largest airport and it claims to be the most efficient single-runway facility in the world.  It serves more than 228 destinations in 74 countries, handling 45m ppa on short and long-haul point-to-point services.  It also contributes £5.3bn to the UK national GDP and generating 85,000 jobs nationally, with around 24,000 on the wider airport campus.

Picture above: HM Queen Elizabeth II arrives to open the new Gatwick Airport on June 9, 1958.  (Gatwick Airport)

Picture below: Gatwick Airport has the world’s largest over-taxiway bridge.  (Gatwick Airport)

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