London's first airport for civilian flights was Croydon Aerodrome, which opened in 1920. Heathrow opened to civil aviation in 1946 and is now London's main airport.
Four other civilian airports operated in 20th-century London.
Surrey Aero Club began flying at Gatwick in 1930, on a site next to a race course. The novelty flights attracted many spectators and in 1934 the Air Ministry issued the site with a commercial aircraft licence. Just one year later, a train station opened at Gatwick. In 1936 passengers boarded the first scheduled air service from Gatwick to Paris. The single fare for the flight cost 4 pounds and 5 shillings (160.22 in 2006) and included the first-class train fare from Victoria.
During the Second World War, the airport was requisitioned for use by the R.A.F. In 1956 the site began to be transformed into 'the new London Airport'. Costing 7.8 million to build, Gatwick Airport reopened in 1958. It was the first airport in the world to combine air, rail and road transport in a single unit. At the end of the 20th century, Gatwick Airport had two terminals and over 31 million passengers annually.
Officially opened in 1938 as 'Luton Municipal Airport', this is one of the UK's fastest-growing airports. During the Second World War, the airport was used as a commercial aerodrome and the base for the 264 Fighter Squadron. It was also a manufacturing site for the Percival Aircraft Company. Luton was further developed after the war. A new control tower opened in 1952.
During the 1950s and 60s, Luton Airport played an important role in the development of the inclusive or 'package' holiday business. Many holiday airlines chose Luton as their base, and in 1969 a fifth of all holiday flights from the UK departed from Luton Airport. In 1995, the airport became the home of EasyJet, a pioneer of 'no frills' flying. A new terminal building was opened in 1999, alongside a train station, providing a transport link to central London. In 2004, 7.5 million passengers used the airport, an increase of 400% in 10 years.
Stansted Airport is 40 miles northeast of London, close to Stevenage and Chelmsford. The first runway was built in 1942 by the US Air Force, which was stationed in the area during the Second World War. In 1966 the British Airports Authority took control. The airport's terminal was extended in 1970 to handle the increasing number of passengers. A new terminal replaced the existing one in 1991.
London City Airport opened in 1987. It is three miles east of Canary Wharf, on the site of the Royal Docks. Because of space restrictions and the surrounding docks, it is a STOLport - meaning Short Take Off and Landing. Over 1.5 million passengers used the airport in 2000.
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