ALL GOOD THINGS TAKE TIME
In democracies, development of big infrastructure projects can take decades. This especially applies to airports, which have a huge impact beyond their perimeter. For example, Amsterdam Schiphol's newest runway opened in 2003, 35 years after it first appeared in planning documents.
London Heathrow's third runway takes the cake however. Did you know that plans to construct new runways north of Heathrow date back all the way to 1946?
According to the airport's original development plan, initially Heathrow would boast six runways laid out in a Star-of-David pattern: two main east-west runways, which could handle the heaviest aircraft of the time, along with four shorter diagonal runways.
Passenger terminals were to be located in the middle of the field in order to optimize aircraft taxiing times to and from the runways.
In a second development phase, a further three runways in a triangular pattern would be built north of Bath Road, bringing the total to nine runways!
The expansion would have necessitated the demolition of the two nearby villages of Harlington and Sipson. The Illustrated London News article mentioned that: "This work will not be undertaken before 1950 in order to... give ample warning to the householders concerned."
The first six runways as well as the central terminal area were built as planned. The northward expansion, however, was thought to be costly and unnecessary, and plans were shelved.
FROM SIX RUNWAYS TO TWO
Due the expansion of the central terminal area, as well as the new generation of jets needing longer runways, three of Heathrow's four diagonal runways had been closed by the 1970s, leaving Heathrow with three runways.
The last remaining diagonal runway, runway 5/23, was decommissioned in 2003, leaving Heathrow with its current two runways.
Discussions about the construction of a third parallel runway resurfaced again in the 1980s. Between 1990 and 2015, three major studies were undertaken, all of which concluded that a third runway at Heathrow afforded the greatest benefits.
THE THIRD RUNWAY IS FINALLY COMING...OR NOT?
In 2018, the UK House of Commons voted in favor of the expansion, after which a public consultation started. According to the planning, the third runway would open in 2026, 80 years after it was first conceived!
However, in February 2020, plans were blocked by an appeals court on environmental grounds. At the time of writing, the project could face many more years of delays, and with climate change now becoming a political priority, there is a chance that the scheme will be cancelled altogether.
You can read many more details about Heathrow's history in the book Heathrow Airport 70 years and Counting, written by aviation journalist Kevan James. You can find more analysis on the recent court decision his website KJM Today.
What are your thoughts about London's third runway project? Let us know in the comments below!
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THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
One year ago today, we launched www.AirportHistory.org! The response to the site has been overwhelming. I’m proud to say that to date 60,000 people have visited the site since it launch! In addition, we have received numerous e-mails of support and enthusiasm from around the world.
A LONG TAKEOFF RUN
This website has been a long time coming. I have been fascinated with airports since I was four years old after taking a flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta in the summer of 1981. I remember the impressive terminal buildings, the beautifully dressed people and airport advertisements...all the colors of the runway and taxiway lights. I was mesmerized by it all.
After returning home, I started drawing airport layouts like crazy. Every few weeks I rented the movie “Airport” and watched it ten times in a row! In 1985, I bought my first book on airports: Major Airports of the World, written by Roy Allen. It's still my favorite book. I own 20 copies from different editions and languages!
A few years later I started collecting airport books, reports, brochures and photos, sending letters--and the first faxes--to airports around the world. This was the start of what would become one of the world's most prolific airport photo collections.
THE BIRTH OF AIRPORTHISTORY.ORG
Over the years, the idea surfaced to put my archive out there for people to enjoy. For a long time I felt that the interesting and colorful history of the world's airports had been hopelessly neglected, first and foremost by airports themselves, which often only had a small web page with bullet some points and a few grainy photos.
I decided to correct things myself. On July 1st, 2013, I registered the domain name www.airporthistory.org, after which I started a new round of collecting, this time being able to leverage my professional network.
With AirportHistory.org, we aim to create a central resource about the development history of the world's great airports. The emphasis is on showing captivating and rare images that show how airports have evolved through the decades.
The photo collections are accompanied by an accessible historical narrative focusing on providing interesting facts and stories about a given airport.
The focus is on infrastructure and architecture and how each airport tried to keep pace with ever-growing traffic as well as paradigm changes like the advent of the wide-body aircraft or the hub-and-spoke system.
Naturally, we have a fondness for the period 1960-1975, when exciting experiments in airport design took place. Airport planners and architects in that era couldn't fathom the future growth of air travel to what it is today, the rate of growth and changes to come.
The airports they built, although innovative for the time (e.g. DFW, JFK, CDG, FRA, etc.), quickly proved to be either too small or unsuitable for today's large-scale modern operations. Once considered visionary, some of these legendary airports are now among the most despised among the traveling public.
We have many exciting developments coming. As of now you can look forward to regular content coming out. We will continue our very popular series on airports such as New York Kennedy and Paris de Gaulle.
At the same time, we'll be starting series on airports such Boston, Chicago O'Hare, Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, the London airports, Dubai, Singapore Paya Lebar & Changi, Tokyo Narita, Melbourne and Sydney.
We will release never-seen-before photos of great airports that are not with us anymore, such as Denver Stapleton, Oslo Fornebu, and yes, of course, Hong Kong Kai Tak! And of course, we plan more stories about never-built airports and never-built expansion projects at existing airports.
Lastly, we’re planning many new photo specials as well as special themes, such as the evolution of airport shopping and eating as well as the history of airport lounges.
We are also preparing to open a web shop, where we will offer you the opportunity to own digital copies of fantastic vintage airport brochures, reports and photos.
For the longer term, we’re planning a series of high quality coffee table books on the history of the world’s great airports featuring many additional photos not seen on this website.
Do you want to stay posted on all of these developments?
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ATTENTION: VISITORS FROM AIRLINERS.NET! YOU HAVE ARRIVED ON AN OLDER BLOG POST ABOUT THE PROPOSED 1989 DFW REBUILD.
PART 1 OF AN BRAND-NEW EXPANDED ARTICLE ON THE SCHEME, CAN BE FOUND HERE.
PART 2, FEATURING MANY IMAGES AND LAYOUTS OF THE PLAN, IS NOW ONLINE! YOU CAN READ IT HERE.
In 1989, a spectacular plan was presented that saw the elimination of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport's characteristic semi-circular terminals, replacing them with gigantic linear terminals. Read all about it below!
With its semi-circular terminal buildings, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport has one of the most recognizable airport layouts in the world.
Opened in January, 1974, the airport's "drive-to-the-gate" concept was devised in a time when it was thought that "DFW" would mainly serve people originating in, and destined for the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
Each of the four terminals would serve one major airline or a group of smaller airlines. In the master plan it was envisaged that 13 circular terminals would be built.
However, in the years following deregulation in 1978, airlines shifted to the hub-and-spoke model and airports were increasingly dominated by one or two carriers.
By 1987, DFW's two principal airlines, American and Delta, carried over 80% of the airport's traffic and they transferred two-thirds of their passengers.
For one, this meant that increasingly passengers had to switch between terminals in order to catch their connecting flight. Although the terminals were connected by an automated people mover, it was quite slow and only traveled in one direction!
Hubbing also lead to aircraft congestion during peaks, as both airlines operated on the eastern side of the airport.
In 1987, planners suggested to build three small "Atlanta-style" concourses west of, and perpendicular to International Parkway, the north-south highway dissecting the airport.
By 1989, this had evolved into a scheme to build a single very long concourse, parallel to International Parkway.
This new facility would be used exclusively by American Airlines.
By 2010, all half-loop terminals would be eliminated, to be replaced with linear terminals both east and west of the International Parkway. The scheme would double the number of gates from over a 100 to 200.
Traffic forecasts showed that traffic would rise from 47.5 million passengers in 1989, to over a 100 million passengers and a whopping 1.2 million aircraft movements by 2010, a number that could be comfortably handled by the new layout.
At the time, the total project cost was calculated at USD 3.5 billion (USD 7.2 billion in 2019 dollars), only USD 300 million less than the projected cost for the gigantic new Denver Airport, which was being developed at the time in tandem.
Due to the huge cost, the scheme was abandoned. Instead, the existing facilities were improved and expanded.
As we know now, the traffic never grew to the extent that was forecast back in the late 1980s. Although DFW by all means is a mega-hub, the airport handled only 69.1 million passengers in 2018.
AMSTERDAM SCHIPHOL IN THE MID-1980S
As the aviation community celebrates the 100th anniversary of KLM, AirportHistory.org is preparing a detailed history on Schiphol Airport, which actually predates KLM by more than three years!
To get in the mood, I wanted to share this amazing illustration below of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in the mid-1980s. When I was a kid, I used to have this image as a huge poster. I was so happy to find it back during one of my recent archival digs!
It shows the Schiphol that I knew as a kid: state-of-the-art, small and convenient! Since then, the terminal has doubled in size and several new concourses have been built and existing ones extended.
Have a close look at the details of the photo. The round structure adjacent to the terminal (center of image) is the "old" railway station. Opened in 1978, the station was torn down after only 15 years and rebuilt into the "Schiphol Plaza" complex we know today. Can some of you still remember the tunnel connecting the railway station to the terminal?
Note the open parking lot on the right, which is now a huge multi-level parking structure with offices built on top. Also note the still-empty polder landscape south of the airport.
The motorway running through it used to offer expansive views of the beautiful Dutch skies. Nowadays, the polder is cluttered with office parks, housing developments, infrastructure and--in the finest tradition--huge windmills!
Foreign visitors in the image include 747s of Braniff, CP Air, Singapore Airlines and Qantas, as well as DC-10s of Malaysian Airline System and Finnair, as well as a DC-8 from Surinam Airways. Surinam is one of Holland's former colonies.
Interestingly, you'll see planes are parked parallel to the concourse as well as nose-in. Indeed, for a number of years, Schiphol used a combination of the two, with newly built wide-body gates in the 1970s being nose-in positions. Gates for smaller aircraft were converted in the mid-1980s.
SOMETHING IS NOT QUITE RIGHT
I'm sure that readers familiar with Schiphol have already noticed that something about this illustration is "off" and that's what makes it so unique: Pier E, the second concourse from the right (then called Pier C) has been expanded with a "Y-shaped" structure, similar to the other piers.
Indeed, this was originally the plan. But in the early 1980s, it was decided to completely rebuild Pier E, with the design departing from this "Y" shape. See below for how it turned out.
From this interesting deviation and the visiting aircraft, I gather that the drawing dates back to the early 1980s or even late 1970s.
I have been unable to properly identify the artist who made this drawing. Only his given name "Hubert" is visible on the edge of the drawing. Can one of our readers perhaps help?
Hope you enjoyed! This was just a snapshot of Schiphol's history but we are working on a muti-part history as well as several photo specials.
Did you notice other interesting things about this illustration? Please share your thoughts below ↓
Welcome to "The Blue Concourse", the AirportHistory.org blog! Many airport and aviation aficionados will recognize this name from the 1970 movie "Airport", the movie which ignited my fascination for airports!
"Airport" was set at a fictional Chicago airport called "Lincoln International Airport" but was actually shot at Minneapolis St. Paul Airport in 1969. Until the year 2000, the terminal's concourses at MSP were labeled according to colors rather than letters. Considering our house color blue, we thought it might be a suitable name!
In this blog, we will post small articles, factoids and more covering topics such as: never-built projects or concepts; current airport projects; fascinating airport statistics; and interesting tidbits about my hometown airport of Schiphol (see first post).
The blog will also be a bit more lighthearted and personal than our airport histories. Welcome and stay tuned!
With a title inspired by the setting of the iconic 70s film "Airport", this blog is the ultimate destination for airport history fans.
Marnix (Max) Groot Founder of AirportHistory.org. Max is an airport development expert and historian.