Heathrow airport can be considered one of the oldest airports within the UK, its early use being in the First World War as a training airfield for the first military pilots. Military services in terms of operational sorties were practically non existent meaning that the site can almost solely trace its development as a commercial airport. At its inception the airfield had six runways in a star shape, a requirement due to the take off restrictions of early aircraft. At the time the centrally located terminal was seen as the most logical choice but in recent years this central location has in fact limited the boundaries of the terminal buildings, car parks and car hire lots.
Despite this the transport links at Heathrow airport are excellent, a direct link to the M25 motorway means that a hire car from Heathrow can be deemed a great way to see the country. In terms of passenger numbers, Heathrow annually sees seventy million travellers pass through the terminals. Flights from the site span the globe, and the airport remains the predominant airport in the UK for intercontinental travel. In fact, if the large numbers of international passengers is recognised, Heathrow is arguably the busiest airport in the world.
All of the terminals at Heathrow today are filled with accompanying services such as shops, restaurants, car hire desks and cafes. The inclusion of these services is not purely to make life easier for travellers. Thanks to high rents for these shops and services, the airport authority can make a tidy profit from letting its terminal space. Another benefit of these auxiliary services is the employment it brings to the local area. When the airport staff and retail staff are taken into account, Heathrow can be deemed one of the largest employers in the south of England.
Currently the site has just opened the somewhat unimaginatively named Terminal 5. The new terminal has experienced a large number of criticisms due to teething problems with the automated baggage system. This new terminal is the home of all the British Airways flights from the airport, representing the kudos that the national flyer has at the nation's major airport. Naturally this terminal will be filled with the usual car hire desks, shops, cafes and bars so the airport authorities can make a greater profit from the transit of passengers. The terminal itself cost around 4.2 billion pounds to construct, a gargantuan figure, but necessary as the facilities there had to cope with the development of the new 'giant of the air', the Airbus A380.
While the future of the airport looks set, the future of its owning company, the British Airport Authority and in turn the Spanish Ferrovial Group is not so certain. Recently the company has been criticised for holding a monopoly over the air travel within the UK. The claims can be considered founded when the fact that BAA owns seven of the major airports in the UK; three of which are Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted. The competition commission advised BAA to sell two of the big three (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted) as well as one other airport in Scotland. It is not likely that BAA will sell Heathrow however, as it handles more passengers annually than both Gatwick and Stansted put together it makes more financial sense to hang on to the 'trump card'.
Heathrow has gone from a minor airfield during the early years of the twentieth century to a site that is considered by many to be the busiest airport in the world. While the ownership question seems prevalent currently, it is doubtless that development at the site will continue in the future.
Air travel expert Thomas Pretty looks at why car hire Heathrow airport services are likely to be important to the site's future development.