Stansted Celebrates 30 Years As London’s Third Airport

Today, London Stansted Airport celebrates 30 years since its current terminal’s doors opened for the first time. The airport has handled close to four million flights in the years while becoming home to the world’s largest international airline based on passenger numbers (excluding the current crisis).

Stansted Airport, 30 Years, Terminal Building
Today marks 30 years since Queen Elizabeth II opened Stansted Airport’s terminal building. Photo: Stansted Airport

In regular times, London is the busiest city airport system in the world. Indeed, in 2018, 177,276,807 passengers passed through the city’s six airports. Of these, 27,996,116 traveled through London Stansted, accounting for 16% of the city’s total passengers. Today marks 30 years since Queen Elizabeth II opened the airport’s current terminal on March 15th, 1991.

30 years of flights

While being opened on March 15th, the current terminal at London Stansted Airport didn’t begin operations at once. It wasn’t until four days later that the airport started to welcome its first passengers. The first departure was a domestic Air UK service bound for Glasgow. Meanwhile, full-service carrier Air France operated the first passenger arrival with a flight from Paris.

Stansted Airport, 30 Years, Terminal Building
Queen Elizabeth II opened the terminal four days before passenger flights began. Photo: Stansted Airport

Over the years, the airport has seen a range of interesting aircraft. It has hosted a Boeing 747 carrying the space shuttle and acts as the designated London Airport for Air Force One visits. The airport serves as the designated diversion site for terrorist-related incidents in southern UK airspace. Additionally, it has regularly seen large jets, including British Airways and Hi Fly’s A380s, and the Antonov 225.

Stansted Airport, 30 Years, Terminal Building
The airport has handled some giants such as the Hi Fly Airbus A380. Photo: Stansted Airport

Commenting on the anniversary, the airport’s Managing Director, Steve Griffiths, said,

“While the modern Stansted has been at the forefront of the revolution in air travel over the past three decades, we currently face a crisis on a scale like never before. Passenger numbers are almost back at the same levels as when we first opened, but we know there is demand from the millions of travellers who start and end their journeys through our doors each year.”

An anniversary to forget

While such landmark anniversaries are usually a cause for celebration, this anniversary will be one that the airport is keen to forget. Since the terminal opened in 1991, the airport has handled around 460 million passengers. However, recently the terminal has been fairly deserted due to lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests!

Ryanair is the airport’s biggest carrier by far, with Stansted actually acting as the Irish LCC’s largest base. However, the airline has slashed its flight operations from the UK and Ireland as Europe battles with its third COVID-19 wave. Indeed, on some days, the number of passenger flights operated currently stands at single digits. As such, the airport is seeing a level of traffic not seen since 1994. However, it has been able to maintain its status as a cargo hub. It even served as the base of FlyLo in the BBC comedy Come Fly With Me.

Stansted Airport, 30 Years, Terminal Building
Currently, the terminal stands relatively deserted as daily passenger flight figures struggle to reach double digits. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

While Stansted Airport is considered London’s main low-cost airport these days, it isn’t exclusively low-cost carriers that use the facility. Before the pandemic, UAE giant Emirates was operating up to two Boeing 777 flights to the airport per day. Meanwhile, Air India was operating a handful of flights from the likes of Amritsar and Mumbai. The airport even handled the HiFly A380 before its retirement, leading to a month of record passenger numbers.

Stansted Airport, 30 Years, Terminal Building
Emirates was operating to Stansted before suspending all operations temporarily just under a year ago. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

Hopefully, these passenger figures will start to recover once more, as they did at the tail-end of summer 2020. To cope with the expected passenger numbers in the future, the airport is building a new arrivals terminal, which was initially due to open last year.

Have you flown through London Stansted Airport? Let us know your favorite memory of the terminal in the comments!