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The first aeroplane to land in Jersey touched down on the beach at West Park, on the Island’s south coast in August 1912. However, it was to be another 25 years before Jersey had an airport on dry land!
Recognising the growing importance and popularity of air travel, the Jersey Chamber of Commerce pushed for a purpose-built airport and, in 1934, the States of Jersey agreed to the purchase of privately-owned field in St Peter, towards the west of the Island.
The new Jersey Airport was officially opened on 10 March 1937 at a total cost of £127,000. The project used a total of 97 acres, with a 980-yard grass runway.
Jersey Airport boasted two hangars and the terminal building itself included a central tower and two side buildings for arrivals and departures, with a restaurant and terraces on the second floor. Red obstruction lights were placed at the tops of nearby high buildings and warning lights and floodlights were positioned around the boundary.
Within a year of opening, an estimated 20,000 visitors had flown to Jersey, many of them holidaying from mainland UK.
As well as travel opportunities, Islanders also enjoyed daily deliveries of mail and national newspapers, speedy access to markets for growers and an improved air-sea rescue service, co-ordinated by Air Traffic Control. Jersey Airport was up and running and much appreciated by the local community.
March 1940 saw an Easter rush of visitors from the UK, which turned out to be their last visit to the Channel Islands for some time. In June 1940 commercial operations into the Channel Islands were suspended and for days the airport was run as a staging post for many of the aircraft getting out of France. In just three days, 400 passengers were evacuated by air before it was revealed that evacuation by boat would be possible.
Enemy forces touched down in Jersey in July 1940 to begin five long years of German occupation during World War Two.
However, following the liberation of the Island on 9 May 1945, Jersey Airport came to life again. In the years immediately following the end of the War the number of passengers flying to and from Jersey dramatically increased and reached 113,333 in 1947. As a result, money was spent on new telecommunication aids, a new hangar and a longer runway.
Jersey’s unique position as a holiday island, close to France but English speaking, with duty-free goods and carefully graded hotels and guesthouses – made it a tourist paradise. In 1955 over 383,000 passengers used Jersey Airport, revealing for the first time that air travel had become more popular than sea as a means of getting to the Island.
During the 1950s a tarmac runway was built and as the airport grew so did the strict legislation controlling civil aviation tighten up, with any house or outbuilding on the main runway approach classified as potential hazards. This time also saw the construction of a new road from the airport to Beaumont – known commonly as the Airport Approach Road.
By the end of the 1950s it was revealed that Jersey Airport contributed more than £5 million a year to the Island’s economy.
Air arrivals continued to increase during the Sixties with visitors now arriving from further afield. Freight services were also improved with Jersey cattle flown out of the Island to establish new herds overseas and produce, including flowers, sent direct to market in huge quantities.
Jersey Airport continued to develop and expand throughout the decade and following an extension of the runway, by 1965 jets were now able to land. Two new wings were built onto the existing administration block in 1968, providing amongst other facilities, a new 175-seater restaurant and bar.
The Jersey Aero Club continued to prosper and by 1964 more than 40 local pilots had obtained their licences.
By the 1970s, Jersey Airport had become the sixth busiest airport in Europe! The look of the airport was also changing with new building work, which included the opening of a new air traffic control radar room and control tower as well as a meteorological station. Passengers also had access to a shop on the ground floor.
Following a £1m safety plan presented to the States of Jersey, the airport had a 6,000ft runway with a 500ft safety area at the western area by early 1976. The number of passengers using Jersey Airport in August 1975 was 104,085 and by 1978 a mini-price war raged with cut-price fares encouraging people to come to Jersey. Improvements continued with plans to build a new passenger pier.
In the 1980s the problem of noisy jet aircraft was tempered by new developments in aircraft technology. Jet aircraft did not need to be noisy.
In 1986 it was announced that the Channel Islands should have a special position at the Civil Aviation Authority when they considered new air services for Island routes.
On 21 December 1988 the Lockerbie disaster brought the issue of airport security to the fore.
Plans to build an up-to-date and larger airport to accommodate the increasingly growing number of arriving passengers, continued to dominate the Nineties. In 1994 figures revealed that between £15m and £17m was needed to redevelop the airport site. The requirement for new security measurements following the Lockerbie disaster as well as passengers having to wait in a large marquee when planes were delayed by fog supported the argument for new enlarged facilities.
A modern extension to complement the original 1937 main building was opened in 1997, providing more space and better facilities for departing passengers. Amongst the airlines that made use of the new facilities was British Airways, who have been long associated with flights to and from the Island. In the 90s, as well as serving both Gatwick and Heathrow, BA was also able to offer passengers direct flights to other UK cities as well as introducing a Jersey to Paris service in 1994. Air UK was flying to the south coast as well as to other airports further north, whilst Jersey European (later to become Flybe) were offering direct flights between Jersey and Ireland.
Looking to the future – A dynamic route development programme was implemented at Jersey Airport in 2006, which despite the difficult times facing the global aviation industry, has seen significant growth with the introduction of new routes and airlines, including low cost carriers including easyJet, jet2.com and Air berlin. Since 2007 a major programme of capital works has also been undertaken, including the resurfacing and re-profiling of the airport’s runway (2008/2009). A new Air Traffic Control Building and Tower became fully functional in November 2010 and a major redevelopment of the airside departures lounge was completed during the summer 2009, enhancing the passenger journey experience whilst at the same time offering a more positive lasting impression of the Island for departing passengers.
March 2012 saw the successful completion of an integration programme between Jersey Airport and Jersey Harbours, to be commonly known as Ports of Jersey. Led by a Group Chief Executive, integration has allowed the combined organisation to reinvigorate and refocus itself, delivering synergies, efficiencies and best practices across every department.
A business case for the incorporation of Ports of Jersey is now under review and should the proposition be passed by the States of Jersey (local government) it will be implemented by early summer 2015.
Ports of Jersey remain a key strategic asset and continue to play a significant role in the growth of the Island’s major industries, first tourism and then finance, providing transport links that must be the envy of most other islands measuring just nine miles by five.
Updated: August 2014