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Flying back through time; Airport history is plane to see.

Byline: Jade Wright

IN the days before foreign holidays took off, a trip to the airport was a day out in itself. Families would flock to Speke to see the planes taking off and landing.

Air travel was a luxury, enjoyed by the few. Tiny planes carried the super-wealthy, staffed by glamorous air hostesses.

Then, as the years wore on, more and more families took their first flights - and the airport became a gateway to the world.

A new BBC documentary - The Secret Life of the Airport - charts the history of Liverpool Airport.

"Britain's airports have housed both dreams and fears since the first one opened nearly a century ago," says production manager Maximillian Brunold. "The first episode tells the story behind the airports, why they are where they are and how they have evolved from muddy fields to 24-hour city states. "Using rare archive and access to the airport's hidden corners, it reveals the intense local rivalry, skulduggery and sheer passion for flight behind our airports - particularly the rivalry for pre-eminence between Liverpool and Manchester." Built in the grounds of Speke Hall, Liverpool Airport. started scheduled flights in 1930. Its first flight was a service by Imperial Airways via Barton Aerodrome near Eccles, Manchester, and Birmingham to Croydon Airport, near London. However, it was not officially opened until the summer of 1933.

By the late 1930s, air traffic from Liverpool was beginning to increase dramatically, with increasing demand for Irish Sea crossings, and a passenger terminal, control tower and two large aircraft hangars were built. During World War II, the airport was taken over by the Royal Air Force and known as RAF Speke. Rootes built many bombers in a shadow factory here, including Bristol Blenheims and 1,070 Handley Page Halifaxes. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation assembled many types, including Hudsons and Mustangs, that had been shipped from the United States to Liverpool Docks. The airport was also home to the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit. Civil airline operations resumed on a normal basis after VE-day - and passengers increased from 50,000 in 1945 to 75,000 in 1948, remaining ahead of Manchester Airport. But the Ministry of Aviation failed to inject enough cash into Liverpool Airport., and Manchester gained the lead from 1949, resulting in Liverpool's loss of the only ground-controlled radar approach unit available to North West airports.

The city took control of the airport on January 1, 1961, and prepared development plans. In 1966, a new 7,500 ft runway was opened by Prince Philip to the south-east of the existing airfield. It enabled the airport to be open for business around the clock and is in use to this day. The Beatles were famously photographed at the airport on a number of occasions - when they departed Liverpool for London and their first real recording session at EMI in 1962. Control of the airport transferred to Merseyside County Council from Liverpool Corporation in the mid 1970s and then, ten years later, to the five Merseyside councils following the abolition of Merseyside County Council. A new modern passenger terminal, adjacent to the runway on the southern airfield site, opened in 1986, and this was followed by the closure of the original 1930s building.

The original terminal building, dating from the late 1930s, famously seen on early television footage with its terraces packed with Beatles fans, was left derelict for over a decade after being replaced in 1986. However, it has recently been renovated and adapted to become the Crowne Plaza Liverpool John Lennon Airport Hotel, preserving its Grade II listed Art Deco style. The former apron of the terminal is also listed and retained in its original condition, although it is no longer connected to the airport or subject to airside access control. In 2002, the airport was renamed in honour of John Lennon, and his 7ft bronze statue stands overlooking the check-in hall. On the roof is painted the airport's motto, a line from Lennon's song Imagine: Above us, only sky. In 2005, the Yellow Submarine, a large-scale work of art, was installed on a traffic island at the entrance to the airport. ? The Secret Life of the Airport is on BBC4, on Monday, at 9pm.


READY AND WAITING: Passengers relax in the departure lounge in the late 1950s ALL ABOARD: An airliner waits for its passengers, while the arrivals/departures board is filled in by hand
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 13, 2009
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