Scots airports still flying high a century after opening

Grangemouth airfield in 1939. It closed in 1955 and was later built over. Picture: Contributed

Grangemouth airfield in 1939. It closed in 1955 and was later built over. Picture: Contributed

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THE days of air travel being the preserve of the rich are long gone as passenger numbers steadily rise across the globe.

Scotland is no exception, with Edinburgh and Glasgow airports reporting their busiest ever March.

Foreign secretary Lord Home arrives at Renfrew airport in 1962 to campign in the Glasgow Woodside by-election. Picture: TSPL

Foreign secretary Lord Home arrives at Renfrew airport in 1962 to campign in the Glasgow Woodside by-election. Picture: TSPL

The capital had 927,200 passengers last month, while Glasgow recorded more than 660,000.

Glasgow also created history as it exceeded 8.9 million passengers during a rolling 12-month period for the first time.

Edinburgh’s record came just weeks after it celebrated the 100th anniversary of its opening.

Although today an international passenger hub, the airport began life as a humble Royal Flying Corps aerodrome on March 2, 1916.

Miners from Midlothian queue to board a flight to London in 1965 to join a protest against pit closures. Picture: TSPL

Miners from Midlothian queue to board a flight to London in 1965 to join a protest against pit closures. Picture: TSPL

The facilities at Turnhouse, which was then a semi-rural part of Midlothian, consisted of nothing more than a hastily-assembled runway and a few nissen huts.

It was the most northerly aerodrome in the UK but played a key role in the country’s air defence at a time when planes were in their infancy.

It was renamed RAF Turnhouse in 1918.

Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, the aerodrome was taken over by RAF Fighter Command and a new concrete runway was laid to handle the new Supermarine Spitfire.

Rangers star Jim Baxter at Renfrew airport before boarding a flight to Vienna in December 1964. Picture: TSPL

Rangers star Jim Baxter at Renfrew airport before boarding a flight to Vienna in December 1964. Picture: TSPL

During the Battle of Britain, Turnhouse was home to No.3, 65, and 141 squadrons.

The airport remained under military ownership following the end of the war but commercial flights began in the late 1940s.

The runway was extended in 1952 and a purpose-built passenger terminal opened in 1956.

The British Airports Authority (BAA) took over ownership of the airport on April 1, 1971. Initial stages of the redevelopment began two years later and the terminal building, designed by Sir Robert Matthew, was opened officially by Her Majesty the Queen on 27 May 1977.

BAA sold Edinburgh Airport to Global Infrastructure Partners in April 2012 and the airport has since experienced increasing growth with passenger traffic at Edinburgh Airport reaching a record level in 2015 with over 11.1 million passengers.

READ MORE: In pictures: Edinburgh airport celebrates 100th birthday

Other wartime airports have not survived.

A commercial aerodrome was built at Grangemouth, near Falkirk, in 1939 and would play a vital role in the air defence of Scotland when war broke out shortly after.

It was officially opened by Lord Trenchard, the ‘Father of the RAF’, but the outbreak of hostilities in September brought passenger flights to an end.

The military took over and Grangemouth was designated as a base for fighter aircraft given the task of defending against enemy bombers aiming for local iron works and dockyards.

When the fear of such bombing raids declined at the end of 1940, Grangemouth became a training centre where young pilots were introduced to the Spitfire and taught the skills of formation flying and gunnery and it remained in this role until near the end of the war.

Although originally built with passenger flights in mind, the airfield was closed in 1955 when the RAF pulled out.

The site has since been built over but an impressive memorial to the 71 personnel based at Grangemouth who were killed in conflict or training exercises was unveiled in 2013.

A full-size replica of a Supermarine Spitfire was erected after years of fundraising by local volunteers.

READ MORE: Passenger numbers take off at Glasgow and Edinburgh airports

The history of Glasgow airport is similar to Edinburgh, which is now its main commercial rival.

An RAF airfield was opened at Abbotsinch, near Paisley, in 1932 and was home to a variety of squadrons including Spitfires and Bomber Command.

In 1943, the site was handed over to the Royal Navy and renamed HMS Sanderling.

The site continued as a navy base until 1963 while the nearby Renfrew airport handled passenger traffic.

As the 1960s began, Glasgow Corporation decided a new commercial air hub was needed to meet growing demand.

It took control of HMS Sanderling and commissioned Sir Basil Spence to build a new passenger terminal.

Renfrew airport, which boasted a fine art deco terminal building, closed in 1966 and has since been completely demolished.

The present M8 motorway runs over part of the site, which is now largely housing.