The decision of the British Government in 1943 to build a new aerodrome to the west of London was remarkably farsighted. Although preoccupied with military requirements, especially the need to ferry troops and equipment to the Far East, the Government also looked beyond the conclusion of hostilities to the day when civil air transport would need to grow. London's existing civil aerodrome at Croydon was unsuitable for expansion and when it was realised, late in 1943, that the proposed new site would not be ready in time to help the military requirement, the commitment to develop a new civil airport stood firm. Taking its name from Heath Row, a tiny hamlet that had been on Hounslow Heath for hundreds of years, the new airfield was marked out and its runways laid by the military who handed further development and control to the civil authorities in 1946.
Heathrow Airport opened for business in May 1946, and its international future was immediately established by its first arrivals, a BOAC Lancastrian inbound from Australia and a Pan Am Constellation from the USA.
Partly because the British Isles offered the first landfall for eastward crossings of the Atlantic, and partly because of Britain's wide colonial connections, Heathrow soon became the hub of international air transport. Today Heathrow remains the busiest international airport in the world, with more than 30% of passengers making onward flight connections to other destinations. A daily schedule exceeding 1000 flights connects Heathrow to more than 200 international airports, and in its first 50 years of operation the airport has seen its annual passenger flow increase from fewer than 60,000 to more than 54 million.
The remarkable growth in air travel since Heathrow was opened has called for equally remarkable ingenuity and planning in the airport's development. The original layout of the terminal and control buildings as an 'island' in the centre of the runway system, connected to the perimeter by a road tunnel beneath the northern runway, has made every expansion programme a potential nightmare. The Central Terminal Area has been under continuous redevelopment for decades, and the siting of Terminal 4 on the south side of the airport gave only temporary respite to the pressure on the other Terminals. A warren of tunnels was excavated to provide interconnection with London's subway system, 'The Tube', and a mainline rail express link to London into Heathrow by tunnel has been created. The 'Heathrow Express' whisks passengers from Heathrow to London's Paddington Station in just 16 minutes!
Constant redevelopment and massive investment by the British Airports Authority defy every prediction that one day Heathrow will burst at the seams. Also, the standard of service provided for passengers is being improved constantly, and the facilities now available to passengers are light-years apart from those offered only a decade ago.
With no end in sight of the relentless growth in civil air transport, another quantum leap in capacity is planned for Heathrow. *A Government decision on whether to approve plans for Terminal 5 is expected in 1998. If approved, the Terminal's first phase of development will begin with a completion target date of 2003, and will increase Heathrow's handling capacity by 15 million passengers a year.* When further phases of development are complete at Terminal 5's proposed site, which is to the west of the Central Terminal Area and bounded north and south by the main runways, Heathrow's annual handling capacity will be in the region of 80 million passengers. Such a massive increase in the number of passengers using the airport far exceeds the current capacity of the public transportation systems feeding Heathrow. A major part of BAA's planning for the next century is the formulation and development of an integrated transport strategy that will meet not only the demands of a general increase in passenger numbers, but also the larger size of each plane load that arrives. The development of aircraft capable of carrying more than 700 passengers means that the increase in aircraft movements will not be proportional to passenger growth, and therefore no new runways are planned. There is no way of knowing when or whether Heathrow will eventually reach bursting point - but it will always be meeting the challenge to remain the world's busiest international airport.
Tucked away on the northern perimeter of the airport is this memorial to Major General William Roy, born 4 May 1726. The plaque reads "he conceived the idea of carrying out the triangulation of this country and of constructing a complete and accurate map and thereby laid the foundation of the Ordnance Survey. This gun marks the NW terminal of the base measured in 1784 as part of the operations for determining the relative positions of the Greenwich and Paris observatories".
The Heathrow Express provides four trains every hour each way between Paddington Station and the airport, with a journey time of only 16 minutes. *Two more rail links are planned, one to London King's Cross and the other connecting with the Great Western line*
Aircraft manufacturers are currently studying designs for a new generation of 'super jumbos', each capable of carrying up to 800 passengers. If T5 is built, it must be to a design that can accommodate the likely developments of the next 50 years, a huge challenge considering the changes that have taken place in aviation during the past half-century since Heathrow Airport opened.
If Terminal 5 is fully operational by the year 2013, total aircraft movements at Heathrow are expected to be around 473000 every year. BAA predicts that the average number of passengers per flight will have increased from 127 to 177 in that time. It follows, therefore, that the huge increase in passenger numbers, from around 56 million in 1997 to about 80 million in the year 2013, does not require a proportional increase in aircraft arrivals and departures.
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