British Airways Heathrow Terminal

London Heathrow Airport

Heathrow International Airport

London Heathrow International Airport

2016 is London Heathrow Airport’s 70th anniversary year. While there was much aviation activity there prior to that, only in 1946 was it officially opened as a commercial airport. Then, it had a single and pretty basic passenger terminal – now, it has five, four of them operational. Located 15 miles west of Central London, the busiest UK airport, busiest European airport (in terms of passenger levels handled) and third-busiest global airport - handling more passengers than ever before in 2015 - Heathrow is a major player on the worldwide air travel scene. With plans to further expand it, passenger capacity is expected only to rise in years ahead.

Heathrow Origins

During the 1930s, British aircraft manufacturer Fairey – famed for its pre-war Swordfish torpedo bomber and several post-war experimental types - had first use of the site on which London Heathrow Airport now stands. WW2 arrived and so military infrastructure was added to make the facility into an RAF base but the war’s end finished the aerodrome’s military life. The Civil Aviation Ministry’s site takeover, on 1 January 1946, was to seal its civilian role for good. Then-Minister of Aviation, Lord Winster, officially opened London Airport (‘Heathrow’ wouldn’t be added to its title for another two decades) on 25 March that year. That same day, the first London Airport flight occurred. Two months later, on 31 May, commercial operations began.

Heathrow Airport Aerial View

Heathrow Terminals

During its first 12 months, London Airport handled around 60,000 passengers. By December 1953, one million passengers had passed through. During this decade and the next, Heathrow as we know it today began to take shape. The first proper terminal, named ‘Europa’, opened its doors in 1955. ‘Britannic’, the second terminal, joined it the following year, then came ‘Oceanic’ – the first terminal exclusively for long-haul flights – launched in 1961. Europa and Britannic were subsequently combined to create Terminal 2, while Oceanic became Terminal 3. Both name-changes occurred in 1968 – the same year that Terminal 1 was opened. So, by the end of the 1960s, Heathrow had three terminals in place.

Heathrow 1965 View

Terminal 4 joined them in 1986 and Terminal 5 completed the quintet in 2008. The original Terminal 2 no longer stands but its replacement - Heathrow’s very newest terminal – opened in June 2014. Terminal 1 is also now deactivated and faces demolition in 2019, after the new Terminal 2 has been enlarged. 353,030 square metres in size, 5 is by far the largest Heathrow terminal. In descending size order, it’s followed by Terminal 4 (105,481 square metres), Terminal 3 (98,962 square metres), Terminal 1 (74,601 square metres) and Terminal 2 (40,000 square metres).

Heathrow Aircraft

Heathrow airport’s developmental timeline has run almost in parallel with that of the jet age. The first ‘jetliner’, the de Havilland Comet, was introduced into commercial service in 1952 – just six years after Heathrow opened. Comets thereafter became a frequent Heathrow sight. As jetliner technology evolved, so the very latest types started to become active there. From the Boeing 707 and Vickers VC-10 through to the Boeing 747 ‘Jumbo Jet’ and the new-generation Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner – all have made (or are making) their mark.

Boeing 747 at London Heathrow

Two aircraft types in particular – Concorde and the Airbus A380 - have become especially strongly associated with Heathrow. Introduced in January 1976, Mach 2-capable Concorde would revolutionise commercial air travel. Heathrow Concorde operations became commonplace. The last commercial Concorde flights, staged on 24 October 2003, all landed at Heathrow during a special retirement ceremony. Another significant Heathrow landing occurred on 18 March 2008, when the Airbus A380 touched down to conclude its first commercial flight into European airspace. The A380 – equipping 13 carriers - has since become fully integrated into Heathrow’s daily flight movements.


Heathrow Milestones

17 August 2014 saw the busiest Heathrow passengers day ever recorded, when no less than 241,412 travellers passed through. 2014 also ended up Heathrow’s busiest year to date – passenger traffic for its 12 months combined hitting 73.4 million but 2015, with almost 75 million passengers, has since overtaken it.

Heathrow Today

London Heathrow Airport today covers 1,227 hectares/3,032 acres of land and is a workplace for a staggering 70,000 employees. Equipped with a pair of parallel runways (27L/09R, 3,660 metres/12,008 feet long and 27R/09L, 3,902 metres/12,802 feet long – both are 50 metres/164 feet wide) it handles an average of 1,290 aircraft movements every single day – equating to one every 45 seconds and some 470,000 in a year. A daily runway alternation scheme runs that’s swapped over each week. This either places 0600-1500hrs arrivals on 27L and 1500hrs-2300hrs (approx.) arrivals on 27R or the opposite, depending on the week in question. If the wind direction changes, then 09L and 09R are used instead but the same alternation pattern applies.

80 airlines, between them, serve 185 other airports located in 84 countries. New York (at least in 2014) is the most popular destination served by Heathrow, followed by Dubai, Dublin, Hong Kong and Frankfurt. Heathrow is UK flagship airline British Airways’ primary hub – another major carrier, Virgin Atlantic, also has a heavy presence there.

Since 2012, London Heathrow Airport’s owner and operator has been Heathrow Airport Holdings, previously known as BAA. BAA (then-named the British Airports Authority) had been formed in 1966 to look after Heathrow plus London’s Stansted and Gatwick airports. Four other UK airports later joined its portfolio but, in later years, all bar Heathrow were sold off after the Competition Commission intervened.

Third Heathrow Runway

At the time of writing (January 2016), Heathrow is in line to gain a third runway but no official decision has yet been made at governmental level. The Airports Commission, which spent some months studying future UK air travel expansion schemes, favoured the third Heathrow runway plan in July 2015. Now, government officials are studying the plan’s noise and emissions impacts in-depth, environmental campaigners and local residents alike having long-protested against Heathrow’s enlargement. Alongside the third runway, Heathrow would also get a sixth terminal.

Heathrow Airport Key Facts:

First opened: 25 March 1946
Size: 1,227 hectares/3,032 acres
Runways: Two - 27L/09R - 3,660 metres/12,008 feet long: 27R/09L, 3,902 metres/12,802 feet long
Terminals: Five
Annual passengers: 75 million approx. (2015)
Annual aircraft movements: 470,000 (2014)

Terminal 5 image copyright/courtesy British Airways
Heathrow aerial view image copyright Eric Salard – courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Heathrow 1965 image copyright Adrian Pingstone – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

B747 take off image copyright Adrian Pingstone – courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Concorde image copyright San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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