Situated on the outskirts of greater London, Heathrow Airport is the largest airport in Europe, and is one of the busiest and best connected airports in the United Kingdom. It is also commonly classified as the European Mainport so it sees a lot of commercial traffic in addition to the civilian traffic that has made it so popular and famous. However, Heathrow Airport didn’t start out as the thriving mainstay of air traffic that it is today and it certainly wasn’t always the main airport in London – that privilege went to Croydon Airport which was a combined airfield that was opened in 1920. Plans for Heathrow only started to take form in the 1930s and it was a privately owned Aerodrome that functioned as an aircraft assembly and testing field. It was named for the small hamlet of Heath Row which was demolished to make way for the airport and initially it was not used for commercial traffic at all.
Things changed drastically in 1944 when the Ministry of Air took over control of the airport, realized the airport’s potential as a civil aviation airport and requisitioned it on the basis of using it as a military base for long-range transport aircraft during the war. Heathrow Airport never saw any military usage but instead quickly became a civil airport. Heathrow conducted its first civil flight in 1946 when an airplane departed from Heathrow en route to Buenos Aires. Just five months later it became a fully-operational civilian airport.
Initially the airport had three short runways and no permanent terminal building but that soon changed, and today Heathrow has four passenger terminals with a fifth one on the way. It is a public airport that is operated by BAA and it serves the greater city of London. While it initially had six runways it now has just two which are parallel to each other and run east to west. The first is 12,799 feet (3,901 meters) in length and the second is 12,008 feet (3,660 meters). Both are surfaced with grooved asphalt. Unfortunately the airports location means that it receives strong westerly winds for about 80% of the year, requiring approaching aircraft to fly low and this creates a serious noise pollution problem for those living in the vicinity. The airport is also low-lying and this makes it prone to fog. However despite these inconveniences the airport is still well structured and well-serviced, with an excellent safety record. Heathrow Airport is connected to the London Underground which makes travel to and from the airport very easy.