Northern Ireland

50 years at Aldergrove fly by

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Media captionThe airport has been in civilian use for more than 50 years

Aldergrove Airport, later Belfast International, opened during a period of great optimism.

Rising passenger numbers and the need to accommodate larger aircraft contributed to a decision in 1959 to move Northern Ireland's main civilian airport from Nutts Corner to Aldergrove, County Antrim.

There had been an airfield there since 1918.

During World War II it was one of several sites used by the Allies for aircraft involved in patrolling the Eastern Atlantic.

The RAF remained on the site following the end of the war.

While military use continued it became the major hub of civil aviation in 1963 when the new terminal was opened on 28 October by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.

Image caption Rising passenger numbers contributed to a decision in 1959 to move NI's main civilian airport to Aldergrove

In those early days flying was still a novelty for many and for those who could afford it there was opportunity to fly to 18 destinations in the UK and Ireland.

Aviation was advancing rapidly and within five years of the airport opening, both Aer Lingus and BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) were operating scheduled services to New York via Shannon or Prestwick.

The first package holiday was offered in 1969, it was two weeks in the Costa Brava and it cost about £50.

By the early 1970s work had been carried out to increase the number of check-in desks and size of the runway.


Changes were also brought about by events outside the airport.

The Troubles saw it become a target. A mortar attack in 1976 led to significant security changes, including only permitting vehicle access to the terminal along one road which had a permanent army and police checkpoint.

RAF Aldergrove, which continued to share the same site, was used to move troops and military hardware in and out of Northern Ireland.

In 1983, the airport changed its name to Belfast International and competition arrived in the form of Belfast Harbour Airport, now George Best Belfast City Airport.

Image caption The new terminal was opened in 1963

The 1990s saw the rise of the low-cost airlines. Cheap air travel meant passenger numbers rose sharply from 2.5m in 1997 to over 5m in 2007.

As a result of the peace process, checkpoints have been removed and the airport has had its share of high-profile visitors - Air Force One touched down for the first time in 1995 carrying President Bill Clinton and it has been back with President Bush and President Obama.

And the G8 earlier this year saw, among others, the leaders of Russia, Germany and France touch down at Belfast International.

The RAF station at Aldergrove was removed in 2009 although there is still a small military presence on the site.

To mark the 50th anniversary a special exhibition of photographs and memorabilia will be on display in the departures area on Monday.

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