Heathrow Airport History

London Heathrow is the UK’s largest airport and the world’s busiest international airport, carrying over 80.1 million passengers and 1.70 million tons of cargo each year.

However, the airport started life in 1946 as a small grass airfield. Privately owned, the Great Western Aerodrome was used largely for test flying with commercial flights taking off from nearby Heston and Hanworth Park airfields. In 1944 it was requisitioned by the Air Ministry to be developed as a major transport base for the Royal Air Force. Before the work was completed, the war ended and with it came the prospect of a huge expansion in civil aviation.
London needed a large airport with modern equipment and the partly-built site at Heathrow was ideal. One runway was ready for use and when the Ministry of Civil Aviation took it over in 1946 the tented terminal was quickly put in place and a new chapter began.

By 1947 three runways had been completed and work on another three – subsequently abandoned as unnecessary – was going on.

heathrow airport history - heathrow
A new, permanent building arose in the central area at the start of the 1950s, replacing the tent.
heathrow airport history - plane wing
As traffic boomed Heathrow Airport found itself with an ever-increasing demand for passenger facilities. The Queen inaugurated a new building in 1955 (Terminal 2) and the tunnel which provides the main road access to Heathrow’s central area was opened.

Next came the new Oceanic terminal handling long-haul carriers, a function it still performs as Terminal 3, followed by the opening of Terminal 1 in 1968. Increased congestion in the central area led to the birth of Terminal 4 in 1986 on the south side of the airport, a modern facility but an inconvenient 10-20 minute transfer from the heart of Heathrow.

Today London Heathrow International Airport has superb rail and road links to London and other parts of the country.

In 2001 Heathrow received approval to build another passenger terminal, the construction of which started in 2002. Terminal 5 was opened in March 2008 and has been in receipt of several awards.

After 47 years in operation, Terminal 1 closed its doors in June 2015 to allow for the expansion of Terminal 2.

As of 2022, Heathrow Airport is currently consulting with the government, investors, airline customs and regulators.