Built in part of the grounds of Speke Hall, Liverpool (Speke) Airport, as the airport was originally known, started scheduled flights in 1930 with a service by Imperial Airways via Barton Aerodrome near Eccles, Manchester and Castle Bromwich Aerodrome Birmingham to Croydon Airport near London. The airport was officially opened in mid-1933. By the late 1930s, air traffic from Liverpool was beginning to take off with increasing demand for Irish Sea crossings, and a distinctive passenger terminal, control tower and two large aircraft hangars were built.
During World War II, the airport was taken over by the Royal Air Force and known as RAF Speke. Rootes built many bombers in a "shadow factory" here, including Bristol Blenheims and 1,070 Handley Page Halifaxes. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation assembled many types including Hudsons and Mustangs, that had been shipped from the United States to Liverpool Docks. The airport was also home to the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit.
On 8 October 1940 (one day before John Lennon's birth), Speke was witness to what is thought to be the fastest air to air combat "kill" in the Battle of Britain and possibly of all time. Flight Lieutenant Denys Gillam took off in his Hawker Hurricane from Speke to be confronted by a Junkers 88 passing across him. As his undercarriage was still retracting he shot the Junkers down, and, along with Alois Vašátko and Josef Stehlík, all of 312 Squadron, was credited with the kill. The moment has been caught in a painting by Robert Taylor called "Fastest Victory".
Civil airline operations resumed on a normal basis after VE-day and passengers increased from 50,000 in 1945 to 75,000 in 1948, remaining ahead of Manchester Airport. Ownership by the Ministry of Aviation proved to be a drag on the airport's progress thereafter and Manchester gained the lead from 1949, resulting in Liverpool's loss of the only ground-controlled radar approach unit available to North West airports, further hampering operation.
The city took over control of the airport on 1 January 1961 and prepared development plans. In 1966, a new 7,500 ft (2,286 m) runway was opened by Prince Philip on a new site to the southeast of the existing airfield. It enabled the airport to be open for business around the clock and is in use to this day. Control of the airport transferred to Merseyside County Council from Liverpool Corporation in the mid 1970s and then, ten years later, to the five Merseyside councils following the abolition of Merseyside County Council. A new modern passenger terminal, adjacent to the runway on the southern airfield site, opened in 1986 and this was followed by the closure of the original 1930s building.
The original terminal building dating from the late 1930s, famously seen on early television footage with its terraces packed with Beatles fans, was left derelict for over a decade after being replaced in 1986. The building was renovated and adapted to become a hotel, opened for business in 2001, preserving its Grade II listed Art Deco style. The hotel was previously part of the Marriott chain of hotels, but is currently the Crowne Plaza Liverpool John Lennon Airport Hotel after a renovation in August 2008. The former apron of the terminal is also listed and retained in its original condition, although it is no longer connected to the airport or subject to airside access control. It is the home of several aircraft, including BAe Jetstream 41 prototype G-JMAC and Bristol Britannia G-ANCF, preserved by the Speke Aerodrome heritage Group. The two art deco style hangars that flank the terminal and apron have also been converted for new uses. One is now a David Lloyd leisure centre, whilst the other has been adapted as the headquarters of the Shop Direct Group, and is now known as Skyways House.
In 1990 ownership of the airport was privatised, with British Aerospace taking a 76% shareholding in the new company. Subsequently the airport has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Peel Holdings Ltd. In 2000, work on a £42.5 million modern passenger terminal began, tripling its size and passenger capacity, and this development was completed in 2002. There have since been further extensions. The airport's strategy is to cater largely for 'low cost' operators, and consequently the layout of the terminal and gates requires passengers to walk unprotected from the weather to and from passenger aircraft. Destinations served are located throughout Europe, the 2007 scheduled services to the USA and Canada having been withdrawn.
2002 saw the airport being renamed in honour of John Lennon, a founding member of the Liverpudlian group The Beatles, twenty-two years after Lennon's death. A 7 ft (2.1 m) tall bronze statue of the local icon stands overlooking the check-in hall. On the roof is painted the airport's motto, a line from Lennon's song "Imagine": "Above us, only sky". In 2005 the Yellow Submarine, a large-scale work of art, was installed on a traffic island at the entrance to the airport. In 2005 a brand new apron, exclusively for EasyJet flights, was constructed to the east of the terminal with 6 stands. A pier, containing six boarding gates, was also constructed to serve the new apron.
In late 2006, the now defunct airline Flyglobespan began daily flights from John Lennon Airport to Tenerife South Airport, the Canary Islands, Spain, and the airport's first long haul flights to John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport near Toronto, Canada, and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, in the United States. Although they proved fairly popular, a long series of problems with the service led to it being abandoned the next year.
In September 2006 reconstruction started on the main runway and taxiways. This was the first time the runway had been reconstructed (as opposed to resurfaced) since it was opened in 1966. This work was completed in 2007. In addition to runway and shoulder work was the upgrade of the 40 year old airfield group lighting with a new system, intended to upgrade the runway to ILS Category III standards.
In 2007 Liverpool Airport started the construction of a new multi-level car park and a budget Hampton by Hilton Hotel. The hotel opened in October 2009. In June 2010 Vancouver Airport Services announced that they reached an agreement with The Peel Group to acquire 65% share in their airports including Liverpool Airport. Liverpool Airport has experienced improvements airside by creating additional retail units and a more advanced security area aiming at reducing waiting times. The new facilities were completed in autumn 2010.
A master plan is in place to be completed by 2030 which plans for the airport to grow significantly. This includes, new terminal buildings as well as the introduction of permanent long-haul services.
Read more about this topic: Liverpool John Lennon Airport
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