For centuries the land now occupied by the Airport was part of a manor owned by the Gatwick family who acquired it in the 13th century. It is from them that the name of the Airport comes.
In the 1890s the land was sold for use as a racecourse and during the First World War it was used as the venue for the Grand National normally run at Aintree.
The land continued to be used as a racecourse but in 1930 a small flying club was opened which allowed owners, trainers, race-goers and jockeys to travel to and from race meetings by air.
In 1933, the racecourse was acquired by investor Morris Jackman who formed Airports Limited and drew up plans for an Airport. By 1936 scheduled flights were operating to several overseas destinations including Paris, Belfast, Malmo, Hamburg and Copenhagen. A circular terminal called “The Beehive” was built, with a subway connecting it to Gatwick railway station – opened in 1935 – so that passengers could use the Brighton line to travel to the Airport without braving the elements.
During the Second World War the airport was taken over by the Air Ministry for RAF use. After the war the airport – still with grass runways – was taken over by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
During the late 50’s, to meet ever the growing demand for air travel in London and the South-East, it was decided to develop Gatwick as London’s second main airport. Between 1956 and 1958 the airport was closed for an extensive (£7.8 million) renovation. The new Gatwick was the world’s first airport with a dedicated railway station, and was one of the first to use a fully enclosed pier-based terminal design with covered jetbridges connecting directly to the aircraft.
The Queen opened the airport in 1958. Its first full year of operation saw 368,000 passengers pass through its terminal, which today equates to a busy weekend. Since then the Airport has grown apace. The highlights of the rest of the Airport’s story are as follows:
1962: two more piers built
1965: British Airports Authority established
1968: passenger throughput reaches 2 million for the first time
1979: legal agreement signed with West Sussex County Council preventing the construction of a second runway at Gatwick before 2019
1983: work begins on building the £200 million North Terminal – completed in 1988
1984: the Gatwick Express rail service launches its non-stop service from Victoria station
1984: new Control Tower built (still among the largest in Europe)
1984: Pier 2 opens providing extra jetty-served stands
1985: Construction starts on the new Gatwick airport northern runway – built for use if the main runway is not available
1986: Airports Act provides for the for privatisation of the British Airports Authority with the transfer of its property, rights and liabilities to a new company, BAA plc
1987: BAA plc floated on the Stock Market
1988: The North Terminal is opened by the Queen
1998: The main runway is extended to 3316m
1999: Easyjet begins operating form Gatwick
2000: new £29.5m extension to the international departure lounge in the South Terminal opens offering increased seating capacity and new shops and restaurants
2000: BAA Gatwick published its Sustainable Development Strategy for the airport setting out how the airport is to develop over the next nine years
2001: new £35m extension to the North Terminal international departure lounge opens offering passengers extra seating and a wider range of shops and catering facilities
2001: ground breaking legal agreement signed with West Sussex County Council and Crawley Borough Council to protect local communities from the impacts of future airport growth
2003: Government publishes its White Paper “The Future of Air Transport” which which sets the policy for future airport capacity across the UK, including the South East. It required BAA Gatwick to safeguard for a possible second wide-spaced runway at Gatwick after 2019
2005: Pier 6 was opened, the world’s first air-passenger bridge to span a live taxi-way opened connecting the North Terminal to 11 new pier-served stands. The bridge is large enough for a Boeing 747 to pass underneath
2006: BAA was acquired by Airport Development and Investment Ltd (ADI), a consortium led by Grupo Ferrovial
2008: A new legal agreement, which superseded the 2001 section 106 agreement, was entered into with West Sussex County Council and Crawley Borough Council. The new agreement sets out the airport company’s objectives on a range of issues, such as environmental impact and surface access
2008: In June Gatwick celebrated its 50th anniversary. Later that year in September, BAA announced that the airport would be put up for sale
2009: BAA sells Gatwick Airport to Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) for a reputed £1.5bn
2010: In June/July, Gatwick Airport Limited revealed its new brand identity, heralding the start of a £1 billion plan to transform the airport and opened the new inter-terminal shuttle
2011: North Terminal Extension – opened by former Prime Minister, Sir John Major
2012: Emirates starts the first scheduled A380 service at Gatwick
2013: The rebuild of pier 1 begins. Thomson Airways begins the first 787 Dreamliner service, a ‘hub-buster’ aircraft designed to fly long distances routes point-to-point without stopping at a hub airport.
2014: Gatwick’s main runway handles a record 906 movements, or one aircraft taking off or landing every 63 seconds. This is the first time a commercial airport handled more than 900 movements with only one runway.
2015: Gatwick handles 40 million passengers per annum
2016: New £186m Pier 1 was officially opened
2020: The global pandemic sees restrictions on international travel and flights are consolidated into one terminal. This is the first time that flights operate out of a single terminal since 1988.
2021: Many airlines restart flights from London Gatwick as travel restrictions ease. Wizz Air open a base at the airport and JetBlue launch transatlantic flights to the USA.
2022: The South Terminal reopens for flights after 18 months closure due to COVID-19. Vueling open a base at London Gatwick. Norse Atlantic launch transatlantic flights to the USA. A complete resurfacing of the main runway takes place.
2023: London Gatwick applies for Development Consent Order to bring the Northern Runway into routine use.