GLASGOW Airport opened for business on May 2, 1966 with its first commercial flight operated by BEA (British European Airways).

An official opening ceremony by the Queen followed on June 27 that year (her Majesty running late to the event as bad weather delayed her flight!)

Glasgow Times: Glasgow Airport terminal building c1966. Pic: Glasgow City Archives

Originally Glasgow’s airport was Renfrew Airport, noted for its art deco terminal dating from 1954 (later sadly demolished). However, it became obvious that the small airport was inadequate for the requirements of rapidly increasing air travel, and so Glasgow Corporation acquired the site at Abbotsinch, formerly a military airport known as HMS Sanderling, about 10 miles from the city centre.

Glasgow Times: Glasgow Airport brochure c1966. Pic: Glasgow City Archives

It is perhaps hard today to comprehend Glasgow Corporation’s initial hesitation over building a new airport for the city. Yet the minutes from the Corporation’s airport committee, now held at Glasgow City Archives, record their reluctance due to financial pressures. There was also political pressure from Prestwick Airport which, until 1990 by a US-UK agreement, held the monopoly over transatlantic travel. Glasgow Airport had to settle for UK and European destinations.

The new airport was actually forecast to make a loss in its first years but, such was the appeal of a more convenient and faster form of travel along with holidaying abroad, a substantial profit was made.

Despite the Corporation’s misgivings the new airport was designed from the start to allow for any future extensions. The new 100, 000 square foot terminal cost around £4.2 million. It was designed by Sir Basil Spence, and could support up to 960 travellers per hour. It wasn’t unusual for locals to take day trips to the airport just to watch planes from the café. The white airy terminal, with two outside ponds, had all the up to date amenities such as enquiry desks, telephones, car hire facilities, and arrival/departure boards. Staff using CCTV to watch aircraft movement played ‘a big part in maintaining punctuality’ as noted in BEA’s brochure.

By 1969 Sir Basil was already presenting a report for ‘phase 2’ expansion of the airport. It argued the number of passengers had far exceeded expectations, with 1.6 million travellers using the airport in its first year.

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Since then Glasgow Airport has expanded several times, and in 1975 was transferred to the British Airports Authority (BAA). An estimated 8.85 million passengers travelled through the airport in 2019. There are now 20 airlines associated with it, flying to more than 100 destinations worldwide. It is the second busiest airport in Scotland after Edinburgh. Glasgow Airport remains busy and popular to this day, despite the shock of the attempted terrorist attack in 2007, and the recent pandemic restrictions.