Manchester Airport is 80 years old

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It is 80 years since Manchester Airport opened, Suzannah Rogerson looks at the early days of a place visited by thousands of Lancastrians every day

Through the years Manchester Airport has been the home for more than 60 airlines flying to 200 destinations around the world.

Manchester Airport in 1938

Manchester Airport in 1938

The airport covers 1,400 acres and has a capacity for 50m passengers a year. Each year, passengers drink 1m pints of beer, eat 300,000 breakfasts and buy 40,000 bottles of champagne.

The airport hasn’t always been so busy, coming from its humble beginnings in Barton –initially, a small site built in 1930 and chosen to be used as an aerodrome.

After four years of service the airfield was considered too small to suit the larger aircraft and so a new home was found in Ringway parish, north of Wilmslow, Cheshire. Before the major construction project was even complete, the Ringway site witnessed its first aeroplane landing.

Only partly built, the aircraft Havilland Hornet Moth, flown by Duncan Menzies, was forced to land at Ringway when the fog prevented him seeing landmarks to the Barton aerodrome.

Once fully completed for civil aviation use, the Ringway airport and its terminal buildings were officially opened with a public airshow of civil and RAF aircraft on June 25, 1938, and on June 27 the first scheduled flight took off to Amsterdam. Within its first year of use it was used by 4,000 passengers.

Once the declaration of the Second World War was made, civil use of the airport was suspended. Instead, the airport played a vital role in the production and repair of military aircraft as the manufacturing centre for Fairey Aviation and Avro. RAF Ringway was constructed on the north east edge of the airfield to house the military aircraft. The arrival of heavier aircraft left the grass landing area badly damaged by the wet weather. This led to two new runways hastily being laid down which were later extended to 1,300m and 1,000m to accommodate the four-engined aircraft. Both remain but are now permanently out of use.

The airport was used as a training centre for 60,000 parachutists and benefited from 10 new hangars built on site. More than 1,500 male and female military personnel were stationed at the airport while training and in permanent postings. The airport itself came under fire from the German Luftwaffe, resulting in some surface damage to the airfield.

Following the war, the airport grew and returned to mostly civilian use. Hangar seven was still used by No.613 Squadron RAF up until 1957 where they flew Supermarine Spitfires and De Havilland Vampire fighter jets. The year 1952 began with securing the airport’s longest running contract with Air France and the commencement of 24-hour operations. It was 1953 when the airport gained international status as a major operator with the introduction of Sabena Belgian World Airlines service to New York. Manchester’s transatlantic flights continued to grow over the next 80 years. Another landmark came in 1953 when it became possible for transatlantic air flights to originate at Manchester.

This began the thrice weekly Boeing 707 service to New York via Prestwick Airport, in Glasgow. Further improvements were made to the airport, including the extension of the main runway to 2,745m, allowing larger aircraft which could fly non-stop to Canada.

The airport was officially named Manchester Airport in 1975 but was still in need of further works in order to maintain its list of varied aircraft and destinations. These new improvements were officially opened when Princess Diana came to open Terminal A, now known as Terminal 3, in 1989. Four years later the Duke of Edinburgh was invited to open Terminal 2.

Its darkest day came on August 22, 1985, when 55 people were killed when an engine fire during take off caused flames to rip through a British Airtours holiday flight destined for Corfu.
Entering the 21st century, Manchester secured a new stronghold in the nation’s aviation industry when it purchased East Midlands and Bournemouth Airports to become the largest operator in the UK. With the second runway opening in the same year it is the only airport outside of London with two full length runways and the first new one to be built in the UK for 20 years.

In the past decade, the airport has continued to evolve and in 2010, Manchester welcomed the largest aircraft in the world the Airbus A380, making three daily flights from Manchester to Dubai. Also in 2013 the new control tower opened, at 60m it is the second tallest in the UK.

The following years saw further expansion for the airport with several new routes, some being long haul destinations which can only be flown directly from Manchester and London in the UK. These include Beijing, Boston and Los Angeles.

Manchester Airport has secured partnerships with airlines such as Air France and Virgin Atlantic which combined have flown from Manchester for 90 years.

The airport has also boosted its numbers of travellers from 163,000 passengers a year in 1952 to 2m per year in 1971.

These numbers continued to grow in 1987 when a milestone was reached of 1m passengers per month. Last year the airport celebrated its busiest day with more than 107,000 passengers using all three terminals.

Further developments began in 2017, when the Manchester Airport Transformation Programme was announced. With an investment of £1bn, the airport aims to improve passenger numbers and their experience whilst at the airport.

Beginning the 80 years of history with its first flight out to Amsterdam– one of their busiest routes alongside Dubai and Dublin – the airport now hosts two runways with a combined length of 6,250m and several transatlantic flights per day. It has coped with terrible weather, tragedy, a pink flamingo forcing the closure of a runway in 2011, and hordes of excited holidaymakers.