East Anglia’s Air Hub: A History Of Norwich Airport

Beside its intercontinental hubs like Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, and Manchester, England (and indeed the UK as a whole) is home to an array of fascinating regional airports. One of these (and the busiest in East Anglia) is Norwich Airport (NWI) in the county of Norfolk. Let’s take a closer look at the history and present setup of East Anglia’s air hub.

Norwich Airport
Norwich Airport, like many in the UK, began life as an RAF base. Photo: Sdlkjj via Wikimedia Commons

Early years as an RAF base

The airport as we know it today is actually not the first to have been built in Norwich. Indeed, a former First World War aerodrome in the Mousehold Heath area of the city was opened as a recreational and test flying facility in the early 1930s. However, the onset of the Second World War saw this aerodrome eventually fall into a disused state.

Meanwhile, this conflict also heralded the establishment of RAF Horsham St Faith, on the site that would later become Norwich Airport as we know it today. This base opened in 1940 for RAF bombers, although it became a US Army Air Force facility in 1942.

The USAAF gave RAF Horsham St Faith the shorthand designation of ‘Station 123 (HF),’ and deployed its Eight Air Force there. After the war, the station fell back into the RAF, which based squadrons for aircraft including Gloster Meteors there until the 1960s.

Norwich Gloster Meteor
One of the Gloster Meteors that was based at RAF Horsham St Faith (now Norwich Airport) with 245 Squadron from 1946 to 1955. Photo: Alan Wilson via Flickr

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Commercial service begins

RAF Horsham St Faith was deactivated as an active station in August 1963. However, the RAF retained a presence there until finally leaving in 1967. Following this, Norwich City Council and Norfolk County Council began acquiring parts of the airfield and its buildings, which led to the construction of an international airport on the site. It opened in 1971.

Charter flights were the airport’s bread and butter in its early years, with Air Anglia being a key operator. Interestingly, while RAF Horsham St Faith had three runways, Norwich Airport oped to use just one of these. The runway in question is the 1,841-meter long runway 09/27, whose use largely avoids overflying residential areas. The other runways remain visible.

KLM Cityhopper Norwich
KLM’s Amsterdam service has remained a key route at the airport. Photo: Steve Knight via Flickr

The airport today

From 1999 to 2017, the airport was known as Norwich International Airport. However, it has since dropped ‘International’ from its name. One thing that hasn’t been dropped is the £10 ($13.80) ‘Airport Development Fee’ (ADF) that all departing passengers aged 16 or older must pay. Introduced in 2007, the airport explains that:

The ADF makes an essential contribution to the ongoing sustainability of Norwich Airport. It is invested directly into both the Airport’s facilities and the development of the route network to ensure that Norwich Airport serves the travel requirements of as many regional travelers as possible.”

In terms of Norwich’s destinations, many of these are seasonal and cater to holiday traffic. However, certain routes operate year-round, such as Loganair’s UK domestic services, TUI to Tenerife, and KLM to Amsterdam. The latter of these is particularly vital to the region, as it facilitates long-haul connections through KLM’s Schiphol hub.

What do you make of Norwich Airport? Have you ever flown from East Anglia’s air hub? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!