Last Sunday we went plane-spotting at Heathrow. And today is the anniversary of the belly-flop crash-landing of BA38 in 2008, you probably remember it. Fortunately there were no fatalities. I’ve been thinking about Heathrow a lot lately.
But back to the plane-spotting. I love watching aircraft in the sky, I love airports, I love Heathrow. I’m firmly in the 3rd runway camp. If you think about it, most of us only see planes up close from inside the cabin, or far away in the blue. You don’t experience up close the raw power and illogicality of these massive metal objects full of people and cargo escaping gravity or returning to Earth. For that you have to join the “anoraks” on the perimeter fences, armed with the accoutrements of their hobby: binoculars, long-lens cameras, video cameras, notebooks, high-frequency radios etc. They are all men and they mostly have beards. Some wear baseball caps and combat trousers.
On Sunday afternoon we set forth, beautiful clear day, but very nippy. Just 20 minutes on the Tube to Hatton Cross and there we were on the South Perimeter Road. Most of the time, the planes land from this end, but today they were taking off. Not everybody’s bag probably, but for me it was exhilarating. Not being a plane-spotter, apart from the obvious 747s, I couldn’t tell one plane from another. It doesn’t really matter, but I recommend it as cheap entertainment if you ever find yourself at a loose end. Here are some pictures, and a wonky video clip.
Londoners in general are not especially proud of Heathrow, the world’s busiest International air terminus. In fact, mostly we like to moan about it (I’ll have a little moan later!). I find this both surprising and a little disappointing: maybe it’s an English thing. I worked at Heathrow for six years between 1982 and 1988, and loved it, such a vibrant working environment, everything was on the clock, everyone was rushing. Concorde was in her pomp. Terminal 4 was opened during this time, but much has changed since, and continues to change. The mighty Terminal 5 was opened in 2008. The old Terminal 2 and Queens Building have quite recently been razed and the site is being re-developed. When done, Terminal 1 will be demolished and the new “Terminal 2” extended across the area. After that, I imagine the ageing Terminal 3 Arrivals and Departures will not be long for this world.
In 1929 Charles Fairey of Fairey Aviation in Hayes built an airstrip near the village of Heathrow to test his planes. It was later requisitioned by the government who, in 1944, decided to lengthen it to accommodate bombers. But the war ended before the work was complete. Post-war, the government decided to develop the site for passenger aviation in place of RAF Northolt, Hendon, Croydon etc., and London Airport was born, later Heathrow (LHR). It was decided to have the passenger terminals in the middle of the complex, hence Heathrow’s road tunnels with which we are familiar. The airport’s passenger terminals were opened as follows:
Terminal 2: 1955 (formerly Europa building, now demolished)
Terminal 3 Departures: 1961 (formerly Oceanic building)
Terminal 1: 1968
Terminal 3 Arrivals: 1970
Terminal 4: 1986 (south perimeter)
Terminal 5: 2008 (west perimeter)
As denizens of the 21st Century, we take air travel for granted. It’s just another form of commuting. We take airports for granted too, as – in my opinion – do architects. Why are no airport terminals as beautiful and memorable as St Pancras, Paddington, the old Euston, Temple Meads etc? Unsurprisingly, there are no latter-day John Betjemans leading campaigns to “Save Terminal One” or “Save Terminal Two”!
Heathrow serves 176 destinations in 89 countries. It has parking (stands, as they call it) for 200 aircraft. In 2010, Heathrow had 65.8 million passenger movements from a peak of 68.1 million in 2007. These were derived from 449,220 traffic movements. There are an estimated 76,000 jobs directly associated with Heathrow. See the links below to check out some more astonishing Heathrow stats.
Given the magnificent history and achievements of Heathrow, it is a great pity that it has no museum. It had a visitor centre but this has recently been closed. Apparently, it had information boards and some quite interesting artifacts. It does have a viewing lounge, however. But guess where? Not at any of the terminals where passengers or their friends could readily visit, but in a building on the A4, miles away! The same building where the visitor centre was sited: no wonder it closed! No wonder plane-spotters hang out freezing on the south perimeter road! If BAA wish to succeed in their lobbying for 3rd runway (or anything else), it would do their cause a world of good to have a viewing lounge, visitor centre and museum close by one of the main terminal areas. The cost, surely a spit in the bucket compared to the investment going into current and future expansion.
Come on BAA. How about it?