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Gatwick Airport: Flying high for 60 years

This Saturday marks a huge milestone for London Gatwick, as the airport celebrates 60 years since it was officially opened in its current form.

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Queen Elizabeth II steps from a Heron of the Queen's Flight on her arrival at the new Gatwick Airport, for its official opening.

Opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 9 June 1958, Gatwick Airport became the first airport in the world to combine air, road and train travel in one close-knit single unit.

The £7.8 million construction project in 1958 transformed Gatwick into a global travel hub. Taking over two-and-a-half years to complete and marking a new beginning for air travel in UK, it became the first airport in the world to have a direct railway link, allowing passengers to enjoy a seamless journey from the moment their travels started.

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Increased passenger demand and the modern age of air travel, with 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 the same year the Gatwick Express was launched, further cementing Gatwick’s position as an accessible and leading destination for global travel.

In 1988, the Queen returned to open the £200m North Terminal, which in turn saw the main terminal renamed as the South. Just 10 years later, a fourth runway extension was required, with easyJet’s residence at the airport starting the following year in 1999.

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.

In 2012, new owners Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) announced a £2.5 billion investment programme, further increasing Gatwick’s standing as a world-leading airport. That year also saw Emirates start its scheduled A380 service at Gatwick – making it one of the very few airports at the time that could accommodate the next generation of passenger airplanes.

Four years later in 2016, Gatwick opened the world’s largest self-service bag drop zone. Unmatched in size, innovation and ambition, this highlighted Gatwick’s commitment to putting passengers at the heart of its operations by dramatically reducing queues.

Finally came the big move. Last year saw easyJet, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic all swap terminals – in just 72 hours – as part of the biggest operational reshuffle in Gatwick’s history.

Discussing the anniversary, Andy Pule, Head of Terminal Operations at Gatwick, said:

“Throughout its history, Gatwick has remained at the forefront of innovation, investing billions over the years to ensure that we are constantly pushing the boundaries and delivering the best possible experience for our passengers.

“It’s been an unbelievable 60 years at Gatwick and we have had a magnificent impact in making air travel accessible to millions of people.

“Now, as we move into our seventh decade, we look ahead to continuing our success story, with more global connections regularly being added to our thriving route network, and more pioneering solutions being provided to enhance the passenger experience.”

 

Notable events in Gatwick’s history:

 

  • 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 9,300m 2.

  • 1970: Runway extended further

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

  • 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.

  • 1998: Fourth runway extension

Due to Gatwick’s increasing 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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Crime

Two jailed after attempt to smuggle 8.5kgs of cocaine through Gatwick

“This was a deliberate, if unsophisticated attempt to smuggle dangerous Class A drugs into the UK”, says Chris Capel, Assistant Director of Border Force South.

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The drugs, which had been wrapped in plastic and hidden inside boxes marked ‘rum’, weighed approximately 8.5kgs.

Two men from Barbados are facing a total of 13 years in jail after pleading guilty to attempting to smuggle an estimated 8.5kgs of cocaine into the UK.

On 1 September, Border Force officers stopped 62-year-old Grantley Herbert Thompson, and 30-year-old Jamal Ricardo Walcott, in the customs channels at Gatwick Airport’s North Terminal. Both had arrived on a flight from Barbados.

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During a search of their baggage officers discovered a white powder, wrapped in green plastic, and hidden inside boxes marked rum. The powder was subsequently tested and gave a positive reaction to the field test for cocaine. The cocaine had an estimated street value of £535,000.

Chris Capel, Assistant Director of Border Force South said:

“This was a deliberate, if unsophisticated attempt to smuggle dangerous Class A drugs into the UK and I commend the Border Force officers whose work ensured that Thompson and Walcott are now behind bars.

“Illegal drugs have a significant impact on our society, being the root cause behind countless burglaries, thefts and robberies. They are also used as a commodity by organised criminals linked to violence and exploitation of the vulnerable.

“We continue to work with our colleagues from the National Crime Agency (NCA) to do all we can to stamp out this despicable trade and bring those responsible to justice.”

The case was referred to the NCA and Thompson and Walcott were charged with importation of a class A drug.

62-year-old Grantley Thompson.

On Thursday, 11 October the pair appeared at Croydon Crown Court where they admitted the smuggling attempt. Both were sentenced to six years and six months imprisonment immediately.

30-year-old Jamal Walcott.

The Government’s Serious Violence Strategy, which was launched in April, aims to combat the devastating impact drugs have on levels of serious violence.

It also highlights a strong link between drugs and serious violence and the related harm and exploitation from county lines. The Government has set out the action it will take to tackle this violent and exploitative criminal activity. The action of Border Force to stop drugs before they get into the country forms a key part of this work.

Border Force officers use hi-tech search equipment to combat immigration crime and detect banned and restricted goods that smugglers attempt to bring into the country.

Nationally, they use an array of search techniques including sniffer dogs, carbon dioxide detectors, heartbeat monitors and scanners – as well as visual searches – to find well-hidden stowaways, illegal drugs, firearms and tobacco which would otherwise end up causing harm to local people, businesses and communities.

Anyone with information about activity they suspect may be linked to smuggling should call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or go to https://www.gov.uk/report-smuggling

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