Geographically, London can lay claim to be the centre of the globe. This is because London is virtually equidistant from the Far East and the Far West. The International Date Line passes through the United Kingdom thereby lending weight to this claim. It is fitting that London should experience the busiest airline passenger traffic in the world. In fact, it does so with 163.23 million international passengers touching London in 2016. This amounts to nearly 0.45 million passengers in a day. That is a whopping statistic.
Hence, it is natural that London has more than one airport to handle this volume of traffic. London has six international airports including the oldest one, Heathrow. We are not referring to the local airports at all. Here is the list of London airports.
1. London City Airport (LCY)
This airport is situated in London’s Docklands and is the closest one to London City. Located at a distance of just 11 km from central London, this airport is flanked by docks on both the sides. This limits its expansion. The runway is also a short one whereby this airport does not serve large aircrafts very often. Frequented by business travellers, most of its flights serve the UK and northern Europe. The speciality of this airport is that it does not function at night. Catering to around 2.23% of the international traffic this is among the least busy of all the London airports.
2. London Heathrow Airport (LHR)
London Heathrow Airport is London’s biggest airport in all categories. Heathrow Airport has 5 terminals and two parallel runways. Handling more than 52% of international traffic, this is London’s busiest airport. Heathrow has the distinction of ranking as the 9th best airport in the world in 2017 (Source – Skytrax) Heathrow serves six continents around the world with Terminal no 5 reserved for its national carrier, British Airways. It is the 3rd busiest airport in the world handling around 1 plane per minute. Situated around 22 km from London, it has train and bus connections with central London.
3. Gatwick Airport (LGW)
Having 2 terminals, Gatwick Airport is the second largest airport in London after Heathrow. Its runway is the second busiest in the world. Located in West Susses, Gatwick Airport is 53 km from London. This airport has its own railway station and is connected to Central London by train. Gatwick Airport is the second base for British Airways as it serves Europe and the Caribbean. Many low-cost airlines have their base in Gatwick. Capable of handling around 25% of international traffic passing through London, it rightfully claims the second spot after Heathrow.
4. Luton Airport (LTN)
Luton Airport has the distinction of being the closest to London City after London City Airport and Heathrow Airport. Situated at a distance of 46 km from central London, Luton Airport caters to various low-cost air carriers such as Thomson and Easy Jet. Many no-frills airlines consider Luton Airport as their base. Capable of catering to 7.12% of the overall traffic, this is the fourth busiest of the London Airports catering to international traffic.
5. Stansted (STN)
Located in Essex, Stansted Airport is the third busiest international London Airport after Heathrow and Gatwick. This airport is the principal operational base for Europe’s largest private carrier, Ryanair. Naturally, this airport caters to European destinations. However, in the past, this airport used to cater to destinations like Kuala Lumpur. Usually VIP aircrafts like Air Force One (carrying the US President) land at this airport instead of the busier Heathrow and Gatwick. This airport manages around 13% of London’s international traffic.
6. Southend (SEN)
At one point in time, the Southend Airport was the third busiest in London. Now, this airport, located in Essex, is the least busy of all the airports as it caters to just 0.45% of the international traffic. Today, it operates flights to Ireland and other parts of Europe. This airport has the distinction of providing the quickest exits among all airports in London. You can catch a train 15 minutes after you land from a plane in this airport.
Other than these 6 international airports, London has many local airports that serve general aviation flights. The international airports cater to more than 60% of all UK air traffic. Serving a total of 14 domestic destinations and 396 international destinations, the London airports can certainly claim to be the centre of the world as far as international aviation traffic is concerned. In addition to these international and domestic airports, London is also served by Royal Air Force stations like RAF Northolt. This is the only RAF station that handles civil flights.
In spite of having 6 airports, London feels the need for a seventh one. There is a proposal to build an airport on the Thames Estuary. However, it is only in the planning stages as of now.