Blog: Andrew Cowan on Manchester Airport turning 80

This year is a significant year for us all at Manchester Airport as we mark 80 years since the airport opened, and our birthday celebrations have already begun. We recently enjoyed being the official partner of Manchester Day with a whole host of our colleagues hitting the streets for the parade with our birthday float, including, of course, a version of our famous chandeliers!!

Earlier this week I was pleased to unveil a birthday video we’ve created in collaboration with Mancunian poet, Tony Walsh. Tony’s poem, and the accompanying video, do a wonderful job of showcasing how the airport has evolved over the last eight decades, and includes memories from colleagues, passengers and members of the public. It’s been great to hear the memories and see the photos of colleagues past and present, and even passengers who remember the very early days of the airport.

As we turn 80, the milestone provides a great opportunity to look to the future.

As you will all be aware, our £1billion Manchester Airport Transformation Programme is well underway and hopefully you will have seen the stunning aerial footage of the construction site in the Time Flies film. It really showcases the size and scale of what we are doing.

MAN-TP will provide millions of passengers and airlines with facilities that combine state of the art services with excellent customer service. With the new development complete, we will be able to grow alongside a thriving northern economy to handle 45 million passengers a year, an increase of almost 20 million compared to today. That also means jobs being created for the region and local firms being boosted as a result of working on the scheme. If you’re passing through, look over to T2 and you’ll see the new terminal taking shape.

There’s still lots to come as our 80th year progresses. We’re joining forces with the Bee in the City campaign on Friday, taking the wraps off a giant bee in our Ground Transport Interchange. The bee will have a theme of “80 years around the world,” representing our extensive route network and will be one of the many bees that eventually go on auction to raise money for the I Love Manchester fund.

We’ll also be opening up our archives for a special exhibition this summer, giving all of you a chance to look at artefacts from across the decades including old airline memorabilia, uniforms, royal visitor books, and antique luggage scales, some that haven’t been seen for many years.

The traditional gift for an 80th is oak so we’re also looking to plant 80 oak trees around the region and in the coming weeks we’ll share information on how people can get involved to get their own tree.

Back in 1938 we were, as many locals know, named Ringway Airport and it’s not just our name that has changed since then.

Ringway officially opened on 25th June 1938 with KLM being the first airline to operate from the airport, but little more than a year later the last scheduled aeroplane flew before the outbreak of World War II. The airport became a hub of wartime engineering activity as Ringway transformed to become a wartime aircraft manufacturing centre and a training ground for more than 60,000 parachutists. Passenger services eventually began again in the peacetime of 1946.

By 1952, Ringway commenced 24-hour operations, handling 163,000 passengers every year, a big difference to the near 28 million passengers per year flying through now. Nowadays flights to New York are very common, with a range of airlines flying from Manchester to the Big Apple, but it was back in 1953 that we gained our intercontinental status with Sabena Belgian World Airlines’ ‘Manchester Premier’ service to New York. As passengers have grown, so have the number of people employed, with 23,000 now working on site for us and a wealth of third parties.

Many locals may remember us as Ringway, but in 1954 Manchester Ringway officially changed its name to Manchester Airport. A few years later Manchester was delighted to welcome the Duke of Edinburgh to open Terminal 1, and since then we’ve opened a further two terminals and begun work on our £1bn transformation programme to improve these facilities further.

As many people know, here at Manchester we operate a dual runway system, enabling us to see the take offs and landings of over 200,000 flights per year. Our second runway opened in 2001, and we are still the only airport outside of London to have two full length runways.

Having three terminals and two full length runways has enabled us to grow at an incredible rate, with new airlines and new routes coming onboard year on year. We now have over 220 destinations available from Manchester, served by more than 70 airlines, with a fantastic mix of short and long-haul offerings. Direct services to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong have been so successful they are all daily, with other significant long-haul offerings introduced over the last few years including Beijing, San Francisco, Boston, Muscat, Singapore, and Los Angeles. Later this year we will also be introducing new services to Mumbai, with Jet Airways, and Addis Ababa, with Ethiopian Airlines. Many of these routes are only available from Manchester outside of London, really highlighting our role as the global gateway in the north.