London Heathrow Airport
London Heathrow Airport (LHR) is the busiest international airport in the world in terms of international passenger numbers, and the third busiest overall, after Atlanta and Chicago O'Hare; and is the largest airport in the United Kingdom. It is located at the western edge of Greater London, on the site of the former hamlet of Heathrow, so named for its position on Hounslow Heath.
The airport was constructed 1944-46; although it was always intended to be a civil airport for London, it was initially designated a new RAF base to make the compulsory acquisition of land easier and speedier. The airport was transferred from the (military) Air Ministry to the (civilian) Ministry of Civil Aviation on 1 January 1946, and was opened formally on 31 May 1946.
The airport gained a rail link with the opening of a London Underground extension in 1977, and a dedicated high-speed rail link to central London ('Heathrow Express') was opened in 1998. The airport is also close to the M4 and M25 motorways.
Up to the mid-1980s Heathrow had three terminals, in the centre of the airport. Terminal 4, on the southern perimeter, was opened in 1986; Terminal 5, on the western perimeter, opened in 2008. Plans have recently been announced by the airport operator, BAA plc, to build a new runway and a sixth terminal on land lying north of the existing airport site, separated from the main site by the main A4 road. These plans - which are a revival of elements included in the 1940s plans but subsequently dropped - would involve the total demolition of the villages of Harmondsworth and Sipson. In January 2009 the British government announced its support for the plans. These are proving highly contentious, as the Conservative Party has pledged to overturn the decision should it be elected to govern, and it also faces opposition from environmentalists and residents of settlements which will be affected by the project. Construction of a third runway would involve the complete demolition of the village of Sipson, a community with over 700 homes. The Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, opposes the project and has called for a new airport to be built by the Thames Estuary, east of the capital.
Heathrow currently has two runways, of 3.9km and 3.7km. Around 90 airlines currently use Heathrow, serving 186 destinations, and carrying 67.7 million passengers per year.
Sources & Links
Philip Sherwood, The History of Heathrow (London 1983)