Featured image: Manchester Airport

6/25/1938: Manchester Airport Opens Its Gates

DALLAS – Today, in 1938, marks the anniversary of the public opening of Manchester Airport (MAN) in Ringway, Manchester, England.

At the time of its opening, MAN was called Ringway Airport, named after the parish it was located in. Two days after MAN’s inauguration, its first scheduled flight, operated by KLM (KL), took to the skies.

Control tower of Barton Airport, completed in 1930. Photo: Keith Williamson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Development (1928-1938)

In 1928, the Manchester City Council decided to establish a municipal airport at the chosen site in Barton. During the building period of the new aerodrome, authorities opened Wythenshawe as a temporary airfield.

Two years later, the airport was ready and included a control tower and a large hangar. However, KLM, the first airline to fly to the airfield, and Barton’s operators considered that the aerodrome was not appropriate for larger aircraft.

The small dimensions of the airfield and the costs related to making the necessary enhancements were not the best scenario to open a Holland-England service, let alone expand other airline operations.

Manchester Airport. Photo: Peel L&P

A Vote of Confidence

As a result of this necessity to grow, Manchester City Council voted to build the city’s new airport at the Ringway site. Construction began in November of 1935.

By 1937, the airport had already been used while still under construction. One incident involved a test flight operated by de Havilland Hornet Moth, which landed at Ringway as the Pilot could not ground at Barton due to fog.

And so, with a major part of the airfield already built, Fairey Aviation, a British aircraft manufacturer in the first half of the 20th century based in Hayes in Middlesex, Heaton Chapel, and RAF Ringway in Cheshire, was allowed to use a hangar at the airport.

In MAN’s first 14 months, the airport handled 7,600 passengers. Photo: Manchester Airport

Inauguration Day, First Flight

By 1938, Ringway airport was ready for bigger operations. On June 25 of that year, Ringway’s terminal building was opened alongside a public air display. The airport featured a control tower, administration facilities, a restaurant, and a hangar later named Hangar 1.

On June 27 of that year, KL carried its first scheduled flight to Amsterdam with a Douglas DC-2. In its first 14 months, 7,600 passengers passed through Ringway airfield, according to its official numbers.

An early plan of the airfield shows the position before the onset of war transformed the site dramatically. Photo: Manchester Airport

From Ringway to Manchester Airport

After being used as a site for producing and repairing military aircraft as well as training Pilots during World War II, the airport resumed civilian operations. With other incorporated enhancements and expansions, in 1975, Ringway airport was renamed Manchester International Airport.

In 1981, the World Freight Terminal opens and the airport’s runway is extended by 244 m to 3,048 m to attract long-haul flight operators. In 1986, the airport’s name was changed again to Manchester Airport. By the following year, MAN had reached its first millionth passengers.

Manchester Airport would celebrate its Golden Jubilee two years later and in 1989, HRH the Princess of Wales would open the new Domestic Terminal. The new terminal included dedicated check-in and car parking facilities.

The iconic grand Venetian chandeliers were housed in MAN for over 40 years. Photo: Manchester Airport

Manchester Airport Today

As of 2016, MAN was the third busiest airport in the UK in terms of passenger numbers and the busiest of those not serving London.

That same year, a range of new routes were launched, including important long-haul destinations that can only be flown directly from Manchester and London. These include Hainan Airlines’ (HU) direct service to Beijing, Thomas Cook Airlines’ (MT) new routes to Boston and Los Angeles, and Singapore Airlines’ (SQ) new direct flights to Houston.

Today, the airport comprises three passenger terminals and a goods terminal and is the only airport in the UK other than London Heathrow (LHR) to operate two runways over 3,280 yds (2,999 m) in length.

Manchester Airport covers an area of 560 hectares (1,400 acres) and has flights to 199 destinations, placing MAN thirteenth globally for total destinations served.

In 2017, the airport celebrated its busiest day with more than 107,000 passengers passing through the three terminals. The following year, MAN celebrated its 80th birthday by releasing a special birthday video featuring Manchester poet Tony Walsh, AKA Longfella.

Prior to the pandemic, MAN announced an 8% year-on-year increase in its passenger numbers for the previous month. The milestone meant that, for the first time in the airport’s history, it surpassed the 28.8 million mark.

One million passengers passed through MAN over the 2024 half-term break.

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