Not only is Heathrow London's main airport, is also the world's busiest international airport. Around 90 airlines have made the airport, in west London, their base. Heathrow has four terminals (with a fifth under construction in 2006) and serves over 180 destinations in over 90 countries.
Heathrow's aviation history began during the First World War. The army used nearby Hounslow Heath as a training aerodrome for the Royal Flying Corps, and the location remained a military airfield until 1919. In the 1920s, Croydon Airport became London's primary civil aviation authority facility, but by the time of the Second World War the Heathrow location was emerging as a preferable alternative. Before the decision was made in 1943, 52 locations were considered. Work began on the runways in June 1944 and Heathrow was transferred from military to civil control in January 1946.
Passengers in 1946 were processed in temporary tents. International communications were made using telephone boxes and a mobile post office. The only 'terminal' facilities were armchairs, a bar, a W H Smith shop and chemical toilets.
After the Second World War, a plan was developed for terminals and an air traffic control tower. Construction began in 1951. A year later the world's first turbojet, the de Havailland Comet I, arrived on a scheduled flight from Johannesburg.
Heathrow's first real terminal opened for short-haul flights in April 1955. This is now Terminal 2. Originally called the 'Europa Building', it served domestic and European routes.
By 1976, Heathrow had become supersonic, with British Airways and Air France operating regular Concorde services.
In 1977, the Piccadilly Line Extension connected the airport to central London. This was the world's first transport link between a capital city and its main airport. The Heathrow Express rail link opened in 1998, connecting Heathrow to Paddington station, with services arriving and departing every 15 minutes.
Construction of Terminal five, T5, began in 2002. When fully complete in 2011, T5 will have the capacity to handle 30 million passengers a year. However, many local residents already complain about noise pollution from the airport. In 1994, over 51 million passengers travelled through Heathrow. There are over 1,000 flight movements (take off and landing) every day. In peak times this equates to one every 46 seconds. In addition, there are concerns from environmentalists over the level of air pollution generated by the airport.
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