60 Years Of London Gatwick

To mark the 60th anniversary of the official opening of London Gatwick airport on 9 June 1958, we take look at key moments in its history.

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London Gatwick Check In Area 1958
London Gatwick Check In Area 1958 (Image Credit: Gatwick Airport)

Saturday 9 June 2018 marks the 60th anniversary of London Gatwick airport in its current form.

The airport first started operations on 6 June 1936. Her Majesty The Queen officially opened what is now known as the South Terminal on 9 June 1958.

In its 60 year history Gatwick has been the birthplace of Freddie Lakers’ “SkyTrain” service from London to New York in 1977 and Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural flight to Newark in 1984. It has seen easyJet grow from next to nothing to operating nearly half of all flights at the airport within the space of 20 years.

It has seen a near complete exodus of North American routes to Heathrow after EU-US Open Skies in 2008, only for Norwegian to launch routes many key American gateways. It has seen BA slash capacity at the airport by almost half at the start of this century, and to rebound in recent years.

Gatwick has also been home to many former airlines including British Caledonian, Dan-Air, GB Airways, Monarch, XL airways and Zoom.

Gatwick has also welcomed Heads of State to the UK including French President Charles de Gaulle in 1961 and US President John F Kennedy in 1963.

So let’s take a look back at the airport’s history over the past sixty years:

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1958

Queen Elizabeth II steps from a Heron of the Queen's Flight on her arrival at the new Gatwick Airport, for its official opening on 9 June 1958.
Queen Elizabeth II steps from a Heron of the Queen’s Flight on her arrival at the new Gatwick Airport, for its official opening on 9 June 1958. (Image Credit: London Gatwick)

9 June 1958: Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh officially open London Gatwick. At the time it claimed to be the first airport terminal in the world to combine air, rail and road links.

1960s

19 July 1960: Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of Thailand, and Queen Sirikit arrive at London Gatwick for a three day state visit to the UK.

24 November 1961: French President Charles de Gaulle arrives at London Gatwick for talks with British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan.

John F. Kennedy and Harold Macmillan at London Gatwick 1963
John F. Kennedy and Harold Macmillan at London Gatwick 1963 (Image Credit: London Gatwick)

29 June 1963: US president John F Kennedy arrives at London Gatwick and is met by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

13 June 1965: The President Of The Chilean Republic Eduardo Frei arrives at London Gatwick for a state visit.

1965: Sophia Loren and Gregory Peck film scenes for the film “Arabesque” at Gatwick.

5 January 1969: Ariana Afghan Airlines Flight 701, operated by a Boeing 727 aircraft, crashes into a house on its approach to the airport.

1970s

26 January 1970: John Lennon and Yoko Ono arrive at the airport from holiday in Denmark.

12 May 1971: Ringo Starr and his wife Maureen Starkey Tigrett fly from Gatwick to St Tropez for the wedding of Mick Jagger and Bianca Perez-Mora Macia.

5 October 1971: Emperor Hirohito and Empress Kōjun of Japan arrive at Gatwick for the start of a four-day state visit.

5 February 1974: Scotland Yard Detective Jack Slipper and Inspector Peter Jones return to Gatwick from Brazil where they arrested Ronnie Biggs for his part in the Great Train Robbery. Ronnie Biggs was not extradited and was able to remain in Brazil as he had a young son with his Brazilian girlfriend.

May 1976: 100 British Mercenaries leave Gatwick bound for Angola, Luanda which was in Civil War.

26 September 1977: Sir Freddie Laker launches the inaugural Laker Skytrain service from Gatwick to New York operated by a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 called “Eastern Belle”. It was a no-frills, no advance reservation first-come first-served flight. A one way fare was £59. It subsequently added Los Angeles, Miami and Tampa to its network.

1980s

5 February 1982: Laker Airways collapses. British Airways, British Caledonian, Pan American, Trans World Airlines and Air Florida agreed to honour tickets for approximately 4,000 displaced passengers.

28 May 1982: Pope John Paul II arrives at Gatwick for a five day visit. He is met by Cardinal Hume the Archbishop of Westminster on arrival.

22 June 1984: Virgin Atlantic launches its inaugural flight from London Gatwick to Newark with a Boeing 747-200 aircraft bearing the name “Maiden Voyager”. Onboard the flight were Una Stubbs, Holly Johnson, Bonnie Langford, Catherine Rabett, Christopher Biggins, Clement Freud, David Frost, Suzanne Danielle, Randolph Fields, and Gary Numan.

Archive footage from Thames TV. Note the service to Heathrow on the departures board!

Archive footage from Thames TV. Features many former airlines such as British Caledonian, People Express Airlines, Wardair, and World Airways.

5 February 1985: Four British hostages held in Libya arrive at Gatwick following the negotiation of their release by Terry Waite.

19 April 1986 Virgin Atlantic launches its second route from Gatwick to Miami, again with a Boeing 747.

24 March 1987: Diana, Princess of Wales, and Charles, Prince of Wales welcome King Fahd of Saudi Arabia at Gatwick for a state visit to the UK.

July 1987: BA acquires British Caledonian and its fleet which included eight McDonnell Douglas DC-10 aircraft used at Gatwick until April 1999.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh open the North Terminal at Gatwick Airport
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh open the North Terminal at Gatwick Airport. (Image Credit: London Gatwick)

18 March 1988: The Queen officially opens the North Terminal.

22 March 1988: The first flight operates from the North Terminal, BA532 to Naples.

May 1989: Virgin Atlantic begins three times weekly service to Tokyo.

September 1989: Virgin Atlantic launches daily flights to New York JFK.

1990s

16 May 1990: Virgin Atlantic launches flights to Los Angeles.

May 1991: Virgin Atlantic launches daily flights to Boston.

July 1991:. After securing access to Heathrow, Virgin launches New York JFK, Los Angeles and Tokyo at the airport. Boston, Miami and Newark follow.

1993: BA launches an advertising campaign to highlight the strengths of its operation at London Gatwick’s North Terminal branding it the “Hub without the Hubbub”.

1993: BA launches flights from Gatwick to Pittsburgh using a USAir Boeing 767 in a BA livery using USAir staff in BA uniform. Services to Baltimore and Charlotte follow.

4 February 1996: Pepsi launches a major advertising campaign to mark its new colour scheme featuring an Air France Concorde painted blue at London Gatwick with Andre Agassi, Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer.

Spring 1996: BA transfers 11 weekly Central and East Africa services from Heathrow to Gatwick to release capacity at Heathrow. Services to Latin America follow in March 1997.

July 1996: BA launches London Gatwick – Phoenix. It was to later transfer to Heathrow.

27 September 1998:. Virgin Atlantic launches flights to the Caribbean with St Lucia and Barbados. Antigua follows on 21 October 1998.

1999: easyJet launches its first route from Gatwick to Geneva. Through a combination of organic growth and acquisition of airlines and slots, easyJet would become by far the largest airline at the airport.

10 December 1999: British Airways returns “Beaky”, a Kemp Ridley turtle, to its home in Orlando having been discovered on the wrong side of the Atlantic on a beach in Pembrokeshire.

2000s

June 2000: Virgin Atlantic launches the only direct route from London to Las Vegas. It will transfer to Heathrow in March 2019.

November 2000: BA announces what was to be the start of a significant restructuring of its operation at Gatwick with many services transferring back to Heathrow.

29 December 2000: A male passenger enters the flight deck of British Airways flight BA2069 en route from London Gatwick to Nairobi. The passenger attempted to seize the flight controls. The flight crew, including Captain William Hagan, struggled with the passenger during which the auto-pilot became disengaged and the plane dropped a few thousand feet with 379 passengers 3 flight crew and 16 cabin crew on board.

12 June 2001: Virgin Atlantic launches daily flight to Toronto. It was suspended shortly afterwards.

11 September 2001: Terrorists hijack two American Airlines and two United Airlines flights in the United States. Two of the aircraft were crashed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York. A third aircraft crashed into the Pentagon. The fourth crashed into woodland in Pennsylvania.

Following the incident both BA and Virgin Atlantic undertook radical action, including the grounding of aircraft and suspension of routes.

At BA, it prompted the launch a review called “Future Size and Shape”. It rejected measures such as closing Gatwick or moving to single class on short-haul flights. The move ultimately led to a radical reduction in the number of types of aircraft at Gatwick and a focus on passengers travelling direct rather than transfer passengers.

The move was to see from 1999 to 2003 the number of BA long-haul aircraft at Gatwick reduce from 33 to 11 and the number of long-haul destinations fall from 48 to 15. Similarly, in short-haul over the same period the number of aircraft would fall from 54 to 35 and destinations fall from 54 to 34.

July 2002: BA announced it is to transfer more routes from Gatwick to Heathrow. These include Denver, Phoenix, San Diego, Harare and Lusaka.

May 2003: Virgin Atlantic launches Grenada and Tobago.

19 July 2006: Britons evacuated from Beirut during the 2006 Lebanon War arrive back at Gatwick.

10 August 2006: Severe restrictions on hand luggage are introduced on all flights following an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic flights using liquid explosives. The alert causes very significant delays and cancellations.

25 October 2007: easyJet announced it is to buy GB Airways for £103.5m. GB Airways had operated as a BA franchise since February 1995. The transaction gave easyJet around 24% of slots at Gatwick compared to 17% for BA.

26 October 2006: Oasis Airlines launches its inaugural flight from London Gatwick to Hong Kong.

30 March 2008: A new EU-US Open Skies agreement comes into force, replacing the highly restrictive UK-US Bermuda II agreement. As consequence, American Airlines, Continental, Delta, Northwest Airlines and US Airways ultimately transfer their operations to Heathrow. BA also moved Atlanta, Dallas Fort-Worth and Houston to Heathrow.

28 August 2008: Canadian airline Zoom Airlines which flew from Gatwick to destinations such as Bermuda and New York JFK suspends operations and files for bankruptcy.

12 September 2008: XL Airways suspends operations after it goes into administration.

April 2009: Airlines and travel companies repatriate Britons from Mexico after the Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to Mexico following a flu pandemic. Flights to Cancun are cancelled.

April 2009: Aer Lingus launches a new base at Gatwick with routes to mainland Europe such as Faro, Munich, Nice, Vienna and Zurich. In spite of extensive publicity, including a St Patrick’s Day stunt involving hundreds of near-naked members of the public in Central London, it lasts barely a year.

21 October 2009: BAA sells Gatwick to Global Infrastructure Partners for £1.5bn. BAA had been forced to divest of a number of UK airports due to competition concerns. Its new owners promise a significant investment in facilities.

25 October 2009: BA launches a new route from Gatwick to Male in the Maldives. This marked a return to growth for long-haul services at Gatwick with Cancun, Cape Town (seasonal), Lima, San Jose Costa Rica also launching in subsequent years.

April 2010: Passengers face days of disruption as UK airspace is closed following a volcanic ash cloud from Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull. Gatwick was closed for six days from 15 to 20 April 2010.

21 June 2010: Gatwick unveils a new brand identity created by Lewis Moberly to position the airport as a “challenger brand”.

December 2010: Severe winter weather brings Gatwick and Heathrow airports to standstill.

February 2011: British nationals return to Gatwick on Government rescue flights from Libya and Egypt following the outbreak of civil unrest

6 July 2012: Emirates begins Airbus A380 flights at Gatwick.

February 2013: BA begins trialling “hand baggage-only” fares on select short-haul routes Gatwick. Just one month later it was extended to all routes at Gatwick.

18 March 2013: easyJet launches its inaugural flight from Gatwick to Moscow. easyJet beat Virgin Atlantic to secure UK traffic rights after bmi was merged into British Airways.

23 May 2013: Flybe announces it is to sell almost all of its Gatwick slots to easyJet for £20m and increasing easyJet’s share of slots from 41% to 47%.

1 July 2013: Golfer Justin Rose arrives back at Gatwick having won 2013 United States Open Championship

17 October 2013: Norwegian announces plans to fly from Gatwick to New York JFK, Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale using Boeing 787 aircraft.

3 July 2014: Norwegian launches its inaugural long-haul flight from Gatwick to New York JFK. Routes to Austin, Boston, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Seattle and Singapore follow.

October 2014: Gatwick appoints creative agency Creature of London to develop a campaign for a second runway.

29 December 2014: A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747, operating as flight VS43 to Las Vegas had to return to the airport due to a reported technical issue with one of the landing gears.

British Airways Boeing 737 in Landor livery
British Airways Boeing 737 in Landor livery (Image Credit: British Airways)

30 September 2015: BA retires its last Boeing 737, which had been the mainstay of its Gatwick short-haul operation for many years. The last flights were BA2578 from Gatwick to Turin, and the return service BA2579. The Boeing 737 first entered service at BA in March 1980.

1 May 2016: BA reinstates flights from Gatwick to New York JFK. Route launches to Fort Lauderdale and Oakland follow, in a clear competitive response to Norwegian.

May 2016: Canadian airline WestJet begins long-haul transatlantic flights from Gatwick to six Canadian cities: Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, St John’s, Edmonton and Winnipeg. It had a troubled first year of operations with frequent delays and technical issues. Air Canada Rouge soon followed.

2 September 2016: Cathay Pacific begins flying four times weekly from Gatwick to Hong Kong. The route soon increases to daily.

25 October 2016: The Government announces its backing of a third runway at Heathrow, meaning that Gatwick will remain a single runway airport.

November 2016: BA unveils plans to “densify” its Boeing 777 fleet at Gatwick by increasing seats in World Traveller economy from 9 to 10 abreast. The first aircraft entered into service in March 2018.

British Airways Lounge - London Gatwick South Terminal
British Airways Lounge – London Gatwick South Terminal (Credit: British Airways)

January 2017: easyJet consolidates its Gatwick operations in the North Terminal. BA moves from the North Terminal to the South Terminal, and vice versa for Virgin Atlantic. Both airlines open new lounges in their respective new terminals.

2 October 2017: Monarch Airlines collapses into administration. Its slots are acquired by British Airways, prompting a return to growth for the airline at Gatwick.

BA World Traveller cabin on LGW based Boeing 777 aircraft
BA World Traveller cabin on LGW based Boeing 777 aircraft (Image Credit: British Airways)

5 March 2018: BA’s first refurbished Boeing 777 enters service, flying to Kingston.

1 May 2018: BA begins its first route from Gatwick to Canada, with a seasonal flight to Toronto.

22 May 2018: Qatar Airways returns to Gatwick with twice daily flights to Doha.

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