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A brief history of Cardiff Airport

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 15:42 UK time, Wednesday, 30 June 2010

These days around 1.6 million passengers use Cardiff Airport every year, flying off to destinations as varied as Florida, the Algarve and the Greek Islands. Most of them hurry through the terminal, eager to board their plane, and give little or no thought to the actual airport itself. Yet the story of the place is fascinating.

The airport's history dates from the early years of World War Two when the Air Ministry requisitioned land in the village of Rhoose, about 12 miles to the west of Cardiff

Construction work began in 1941 and the aerodrome was officially opened on June 7 the following year. It was a training base, housing No. 53 Operational Training Unit where pilots could gain experience and learn to fly Spitfire fighters before being sent into the turmoil of aerial combat against the German Luftwaffe.

Just a few miles to the west of RAF Rhoose, as the new base was christened, lay the operational airfield of Llandow. Here pilots of the Canadian Air Force also flew Spitfires.

Llandow continued to operate as an RAF airfield after the war, being the scene of Wales' worst ever air crash when an aeroplane carrying 75 rugby supporters back from the Triple Crown match in Dublin came down just outside the nearby village of Sigginston.

Unlike Llandow, when the war ended in 1945 the airfield at Rhoose was surplus to requirements. As a consequence it was turned over to commercial enterprise.

Before the war flying had been the preserve of the privileged few. Now, however, it was a mode of transport that was suddenly open to everyone and there was a real demand for more airports. For a while the airfield at Rhoose housed only private flying clubs and a few commercial freight companies.

Then, in the wake of the Llandow air disaster, when it was realised that commercial airports required facilities for things like the weighing of baggage, people began to see that Rhoose was able to offer real opportunities for development. Aer Lingus opened a regular service to Dublin in 1952 and a few years later, on April 1 1954, Cardiff Municipal Airport at Pengam Moors on the eastern side of the city transferred all its flights to Rhoose.

Shortly afterwards a new terminal building was opened and flights began to operate to places like the Channel Islands, France, Belfast and Cork.

Rhoose airport terminal in the 1950s.jpg

Rhoose Airport in the 1950s.  Photograph provided by Cardiff Airport

By 1962 the new airport was handling over 100,000 passengers a year.

The 1970s saw huge developments with the airport's name being changed to Glamorgan, Rhoose Airport. Concorde landed a few times but in those days the runway was only long enough to take the mighty jet when she was lightly loaded. And she was not able to take off with passengers on board.

The runway was extended by 750 feet in 1986 and this enabled the airport - now called Cardiff - Wales Airport - to cater for transatlantic flights to Florida and Canada. British Airways quickly realised the value of the place and built a huge Maintenance Hangar alongside the runway, capable of handling the huge 747 jumbo jets that could now also land at Cardiff.

The airport was privatised in 1995 and, as the new millennium dawned, was recognised as the UK's 20th busiest airport.

In 2009 came another name change and the place is now known simply as Cardiff Airport. These days flights are scheduled for destinations as varied as Majorca, Malta, Amsterdam (with its world-wide connections), Greece and Ireland.

Perhaps the most interesting recent development, however, has been the air link between Cardiff and Anglesey, planes flying into the RAF base at Valley. This is the first air link between north and south Wales and though there has been a recent glitch - Highland Airways going into administration - this had little or nothing to do with the north-south Wales link. The route has now been taken over by Manx2 and the experiment looks set to continue.

Cardiff Airport is a vital part of the infrastructure of Wales. It looks set to grow and grow.

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