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History of Bristol Airport

We are proud of our history, which stretches back to 1930, when a group of pioneering businessmen established Bristol’s first airport at Whitchurch.

An area of farmland at Whitchurch is bought and the new airport is born.

Aviation may have changed beyond recognition since those early days but we retain the passion of those early pioneers, and share their goal of connecting our region to the world.

1920s

1927: A group of local businessmen raise £6,000 through public subscriptions to start a flying club at Filton Aerodrome – later to become the birthplace of Concorde.

1929: The project attracts such interest that these early pioneers became more ambitious and decide to develop a fully-fledged airport for Bristol. An area of farmland at Whitchurch is bought and the new airport is born.

1930/40s

1930: Bristol Airport is officially opened on 31 May by HRH Prince George, becoming only the third civil airport in the country.

1939: Before being requisitioned by the Air Ministry at the outbreak of World War II, the Whitchurch site is handling 4,000 passengers a year.

1939-1945: The comings and goings of statesmen, spies, film stars and others are shrouded in secrecy, but Winston Churchill and Amy Johnson certainly use the Airport during this period.

1945: Discussions on the fate of Whitchurch following the war conclude that it cannot be developed for peace-time use and its future is limited as there is no possibility of extending the runway.

Bristol Airport, Old Terminal (Lulsgate)

1950s/60s

1955: Bristol wins its ten-year battle for a new City airport. Lulsgate Bottom Airfield, which had not been in use as an R.A.F airfield in the 10 years since the war is purchased for £55,000 by the Bristol Corporation. It is announced that Bristol's new aerodrome will officially be known as "Bristol (Lulsgate) Airport".

1957: The Duchess of Kent, whose late husband - killed during the war - had previously opened Whitchurch Airport, opens the new airport. The first year of operation is successful with a throughput of 33,000 passengers.

1965: Extensions are made to the terminal building.

1980s

1980: With the increase in the charter holiday market, seventeen tour operators now offer flights from the West Country.

1984: A new international departure lounge, including a duty free shop and 24 hour airside bar opens.

1988: Bristol Airport's rapid expansion continues with an annual total of 100,000 scheduled passengers passing through the airport for the first time.

1990s

1994: A planning application for a proposed new terminal building is approved by the Secretary of State.

1995: One of aviation's major characters and long-serving managing director, Les Wilson OBE, is tragically killed in a car accident.

1997: A rebranding exercise sees the birth of ‘Bristol International’, in recognition of the increased overseas destinations served.

2000s

2000: A new terminal building opens its doors for the first time, with HRH Princess Royal doing the honours. Other infrastructure improvements include the introduction of a category III all-weather landing system. Passenger numbers pass the 2 million mark for the first time.

2001: The Airport is acquired by Macquarie and Cintra for £198m. Low cost airline, Go, announces that it will make Bristol its second UK base, sowing the seeds for easyJet’s operation today.

2005: Continental Airlines launches the first-ever scheduled non-stop transatlantic service from the South West to New York's Newark Liberty Airport.

2008: Passenger numbers pass six million for the first time.

HRH The Princess Royal and Robert Sinclair

2010s

2011: Planning permission is granted for development of facilities to handle 10 million passengers per annum and work begins on the first of 30 component projects – construction of three new aircraft stands.

2013: A £6.5m central walkway opens to ease congestion in the departure lounge and work begins on the first major extension to the terminal building since it opened in 2000.

2015: Fifteen years on from opening the current terminal building, HRH The Princess Royal returns to unveil the £8.6m East Terminal Extension. The development provides hundreds of additional seats in a significantly enlarged departure lounge, as well as several new retail and catering outlets, a second executive lounge and an outdoor rooftop terrace.

2016: More than seven million passengers pass through terminal for the first time as development continues in the shape of a £24m West Terminal Extension.

2017: Bristol Airport celebrates 60 years of flying from its current site in North Somerset.

2018: Dave Lees, our current Chief Executive Officer, is appointed.

2019: Demolition work begins on the old terminal building, which was built in the 1950s when the airport was first opened for civilian use.

2020s

2020: The airport experiences the most challenging period in its history, closing entirely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

2021: Bristol Airport announces its aim to achieve net zero airport operations by 2030.

12 million passengers per annum terminal plan