Cardiff Airport

Airport history

The history of Cardiff Airport on its present site extends back over 60 years to the early 1940's when the Air Ministry requisitioned land in the rural Vale of Glamorgan to set up a wartime satellite aerodrome and training base for RAF Spitfire pilots.

The original Cardiff Airport operated at Pengam Moors (Cardiff Bay) from 1931 to 1954. It was the birth place of Cambrian Airways, a major Welsh Airline for many years at the Rhoose site.

Construction work on the existing site commenced in 1941, and the airfield officially began life on 7 April 1942 when it was taken over by No 53 Operational Training Unit.


The commercial potential of the runway was recognised in the early 1950's with Aer Lingus starting a service to Dublin in 1952. A new terminal building followed, along with flights to France, Belfast and Cork. An escalation in holiday charter business resulted in passenger throughput exceeding 100,000 in 1962.

In 1965, control of the Airport was transferred from the Ministry of Defence to Glamorgan County Council. With the first transatlantic flight in 1971, further investment led to the development of the current Terminal Building and Control Tower. The main runway was doubled in length to 7,000 ft, which enabled the airport to accommodate wide bodied aircraft.
Local government reorganisation in the 1970's resulted in the transfer of the Airport's ownership to the three County Councils of South, Mid and West Glamorgan, the successors of the former Glamorgan County Council. The growth in the popularity of charter traffic to the Mediterranean saw passenger levels soar to 250,000 in the early 1980's. New links were also established between Cardiff and Canada.
1986 saw a further extension of 750 ft to the runway, costing in the region of £1 million, thus attracting more business to the Airport in the form of new generation jet aircraft. Transatlantic links were developed, with charter flights to Florida in addition to the previously established links with Canada.

The runway extension, enabling the airport to handle 747 jumbo jets, was instrumental in attracting the British Airways Maintenance facility to Cardiff Airport. The maintenance hangar is one of the largest in the world and provides heavy airframe and engineering maintenance for the British Airways fleet and third party carriers.

The early 1990's saw a significant boost to the airport's scheduled services when Manx Airlines established their European Air Route Hub at Cardiff, offering daily services to key business destinations within Europe and the UK. Consequently scheduled passenger levels exceeded 100,000 for the first time in a single year.


In 1992 passenger numbers soared by an impressive 22% to 743,219 by the end of the year. Additional charter and scheduled services contributed to the rise in traffic, as did major increases in aircraft capacity. The airport's Golden Jubilee Anniversary was celebrated in 1992 and a programme of special events to mark 50 years of flying from Cardiff culminated in a Royal visit, with Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra unveiling a commemorative plaque.
A series of major expansion projects, designed to boost the capacity of the Terminal Building and enhance overall operational efficiency, commenced in early 1993. The projects included re-development of the landside forecourt area, expansion and modernisation of the International Departures Lounge, plus modification of the roadway access to the Terminal, and construction of a new security access point.


In April 1995, due to planned local government re-organisation in Wales, the airport was privatised, with shares being sold to Welsh property and development firm, TBI Plc.

In 2006 Cardiff Airport invested £7 million on developments to accommodate passenger growth. This included new air traffic control facilities; six additional stands for Boeing 737 aircraft; new first-floor walk-way; new departure gates; new gate-lounge; expansion of the international departures pier; new arrivals concourse; new immigration hall for flight-arrivals; increasing the size of the baggage-reclaim area including a fourth baggage carousel; increasing the size of the airport's Executive Lounge and creating an additional 700 extra car parking spaces.

Passenger traffic at Cardiff Airport grew by five per cent to a record 2.1 million in 2007, and the airport today directly supports over 1,000 jobs in South Wales.  The airport was part of the TBI network, which owns, operates or provides services at 13 airports in five countries.

TBI is a company owned by abertis, (90%) the European leader in infrastructure management, present in 17 countries and three continents, and AENA (10%) the Spanish airports operator.

In March 2009 Cardiff Airport revealed a revised name and brand following a brand review involving consultation with a number of key stakeholders. The name 'Cardiff Airport' and 'Maes Awyr Caerdydd' replaced Cardiff International Airport, and a new visual identity and logo was also revealed.


Cardiff Airport at Rhoose

Local historian Geoff Jones has written a book about the history of Cardiff Airport entitled "Cardiff Airport at Rhoose - 70 Years of Aviation History". To order a copy go to:

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