Gatwick Airport at 60… from the Queen and Princess Di to George Michael – we look back through the years

Light the candles – Gatwick Airport is 60 years old this Saturday (June 9).

The airport was opened in its present form by Queen Elizabeth II on 9th June 1958 – becoming the first such facility to combine air, road and train travel in one close-knit single unit.


Six decades later it’s the UK’s second busiest hub, with 45million passengers using its runways each year – but it wasn’t always so. Back in 1958, just 186,000 air travellers passed through the terminal doors.

Increased passenger demand and the introduction of aircraft like the Jumbo Boeing 747-400, required three runway extensions in 1964, 1970 and 1973 – the latter enabled non-stop flights from the US West Coast to begin.

With an ever-increasing number of passenger planes arriving daily, Gatwick opened its new control tower in 1984, which at the time of completion was the tallest in the UK.

In 1988, the Queen returned to Gatwick to open the £200million North Terminal – which also saw the ‘main’ terminal renamed as the ‘South’.

The noughties began with extensions to both the North and South terminals, totalling £60m. This was followed by Gatwick building the biggest air passenger bridge in the world, which totals 194m in length.

Gatwick Airport through the years


Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (back to camera) talk to British Airports Authority chairman, Sir Norman Payne, after the Queen unveiled a plaque to open the North Terminal at Gatwick Airport.

Here’s a timeline of notable events covering the past 60 years of London Gatwick Airport.

1958: Official opening by Queen Elizabeth II

Following a £7.8 million renovation, Gatwick is officially opened by the Queen.

1964: Runway extended

Gatwick extends its runway by 370m to 2500m. By the next year, the airport has 3 piers, all nearly 300m long, and a terminal area of 9,300m2.

1970: Runway extended further

A second 267m extension of Gatwick’s runway is completed, bringing it to 2,766m.


Wham! singer George Michael at Gatwick Airport after flying back from a two week tour in China. Other band member Andrew Ridgeley isn’t pictured as he chose to go on to Hong Kong for a days sight-seeing.

1973: Runway extended even further

The third extension of Gatwick’s runway is completed, bringing it to a length of 3,098m 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 North Terminal is opened by the Queen.

Terminal check-in area in 1958

Terminal check-in area in 1958

1998: Fourth runway extension

Due to Gatwick’s increas

ng global connections, the runway is extended to 3316m.

1999: easyJet move in

easyJet begins operating from Gatwick.

2000: Terminals extended

Both terminals are extended at a cost of £60m.


Diana, Princess of Wales listens to the dialogue of pilots as they come into land at Gatwick Airport during her visit to the Control Tower at Gatwick Airport.

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 £2.5 billion investment programme.

2012: Emirates

Emirates begins its scheduled A380 service at Gatwick.


Pope John Paul II kisses the ground as he arrives at Gatwick Airport for a six day visit to Great Britain on May 28th, 1982. (AP Photo/POOL)

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.

2018: APH Parking gets bigger and better… don’t forget to look out for the latest news on our move to an all-new car park that even closer to the airport. Coming later this year.


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