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New Year's Day marks 70 years since Heathrow's first flight

Seven decades of flights from Heathrow Photo: BA Heritage Centre

New Year's Day marks 70 years since Heathrow officially became a commercial airport and recorded its first flight.

Over the course of 2016, Heathrow will be celebrating a number of key moments with colleagues, passengers and the local community to mark the anniversary.

Heathrow was originally built for military purposes during the Second World War and was handed over by the Air Ministry to the Minister of Civil Aviation on 1 January 1946. The first commercial flight to depart that day was a British South American Airlines Lancastrian ‘Star Light’ which flew to Buenos Aires.

Since its opening, the UK’s only hub airport has grown significantly to handle over 73 million passengers annually and is now one of the best major airports in the world.

There have been many royal visits over the years Credit: BA Heritage Centre

In 1946 passenger terminals were made from ex‑military marquees that formed a ‘tented village’ along the Bath Road. Each was equipped with floral-patterned armchairs, settees and small tables containing vases of fresh flowers. To reach aircraft parked on the apron, passengers walked over wooden duckboards to protect their footwear from the muddy airfield.

By the close of Heathrow’s first operational year in 1946, 63,000 passengers had travelled through London’s new airport. By 1951 this had risen to 796,000 and British architect Frederick Gibberd was appointed to design permanent buildings for the airport.

One of the early British Airways flights prepares to take off Credit: BA Heritage Centre