Why does London have so many airports?

London Heathrow airport is one of the busiest airports in the world, with around 220,000 passengers per day, but why does it need so many more airports? Join me as I take a look at the city’s history with aviation, and why it has so many different hubs.

Early Aviation in London

In the first half of the 19th Century, the world, and in particular Europe, was struck by two deadly world wars. These are often seen as the events which kickstarted aviation into our world, with countries urging to make technological advances in the field of Aviation. The Second world war forced London to build loads of Airports, to release Royal Air Force Aircraft in an instant to defend London’s skies from the German bombers which were always a looming threat to the city. And Soon the war was over, meaning that the question was left, what to do with all the leftover airforce bases?

Why does London have so many airports?
During World War 2, Aircraft were deployed at short notice from London’s many airforce bases (credit: asisbiz.com)

Commercial Aviation begins to boom

Well, luckily for these bases, the Jet era was arriving. Commercial Aviation had already existed in between the two wars, but it was extremely expensive meaning that only a few people were flying. And then, Jet planes arrived! These new aircraft could travel further, opening up new destinations for passengers to get to places in a faster time. This also meant that airlines could fly more passengers, making tickets cheaper and flying affordable to all. An RAF testing airfield which was sometimes called Harmondsworth aerodrome, The great western aerodrome or Heathrow aerodrome became London’s main airport, taking over from Croydon Aerodrome due to not enough space in the area, as well as being too close to surrounding neighbourhoods, making it too noisy. The airfield was known as London Airport up until 1966 when it was officially renamed to the airport we know and love today, Heathrow Airport.

Why does London have so many airports?
The Jet era bought new numbers of Passengers to London (credit: telegraph.co.uk)

The other London Airports are created

After creating Heathrow, the government knew that they were going to need a backup airport for London. There were many success criteria: It had to have room for extension and had to be close to London but not too close otherwise London would become too Noisy. Henceforth, the decision to convert RAF Gatwick was made, making it London’s second airport. But now came the arrival of package holidays, meaning that more and more people were wanting to fly more than ever. This meant that yet another London airport was needed. The government searched for ages, before finally realising that they could do exactly what they did with the other two, and just convert RAF bases. So, RAF Standsted was converted into Standsted airport. In 1987 when Canary Warf was being built, So was London City airport. The idea was that it could serve as an airport for Business Workers travelling directly from their offices in the city. Now, a number of destinations are served by the airport, and it is famed for its urban scenery.

Why does London have so many airports?
London City was created in 1987 to serve the centre of London (Credit: YouTube.com)

Airports rebranding

Many airports around London soon realised that they could just change their name to have London in front of them, and they might be able to get passengers who are flying into London. A comedic example of an airport that tried this, but failed, is London Oxford airport, which is 100 km away from London and is situated in an entirely different city. However, two of London’s airports were successfully rebirthed this way, with Luton airport becoming London Luton airport in 1990, and Southend becoming London Southend in 2012.

Why does London have so many airports?
Southend became London Southend in 2012 after a rebrand (credit: visitlondon.com)


  • Wikipedia.org
  • Jay Forman on YouTube
  • mediacentre.heathrow.com
  • cntraveler.com (cover image)

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