Bournemouth Airport

The biggest expansion of Bournemouth Airport took place after it changed hands to the National Express Group in 1995.

After nearly four decades of stagnation, and with only a tiny handful of routes operating from Bournemouth Airport, things were about to change. In the early 1990’s, when most people thought of Bournemouth Airport they thought of the tiny terminal, the little concrete viewing area at the back, and looking out and seeing a couple of Channel Express propellor driven airliners sitting outside.


Roll forward to the present day, and Bournemouth Airport has taken on a completely new lease of life with routes operating across Europe, two gleaming new buildings and a reasonably busy flight schedule. In fact, Bournemouth Airport is now one of the prime choices for people flying on cheap flights. But why the change in the airport’s fortunes?


It started in 1995 when the airport was sold to the National Express Group, and later on to the Manchester Airport Group.

Whilst not investing in new buildings or car parks, as has been the domain of the Manchester Airport Group, the National Express Group in fact did something potentially far more important.


With a runway length of 2000 yards, Bournemouth Airport lacked the ability to compete with larger airports as most common civil airliners required far longer. Bournemouth Airport could accomodate the Boeing 737-600 and Boeing 757-200, but nothing larger. This led to a runway extension in 1996, extending the existing runway to 2211 yards and giving the airport the ability to accomodate far larger aircraft.


When the extension was officially opened in April 1996, Concorde became the first aircraft to fly in and drew a crowd of thousands. Such was its popularity that it became a frequent visitor to Bournemouth, and operated flights on behalf of Bath Travel.

Bournemouth Airport
Bournemouth Aviation Museum

The following month, in May 1996, Ryanair started operation of their Bournemouth to Dublin route with a Boeing 737-200.


This was the first time that a major airline had used Bournemouth Airport since BOAC departed in 1949.


In 1999 the Bournemouth Aviation Museum was founded and occupied a 30,000ft hanger. Holding around 20 aircraft, with some originally built at Bournemouth including a Viscount, it became a well loved tourist attraction.


With the airport now appearing to go through a period of expansion, it was sold to the Manchester Aircraft Group in 2001.

The Manchester Airport Group, also owning Manchester, East Midlands and Humberside Airport, took control of Bournemouth Airport in March 2001.


Within a couple of months, Bournemouth Aviation Museum were evicted from their hanger, and it was later bulldozed and turned into a car park. Following a variety of failed planning applications to Christchurch Borough Council, they finally managed to relocate to an open air site adjacent to Adventure Wonderland almost directly opposite the main entrance to the terminal.


For the next five years, little development was seen, although new routes continued to be added.

Castle Cabs
Bournemouth Airport

2005 is often marked as the year that Bournemouth Airport gained a new lease of life. In March, Thomsonfly opened a new base at Bournemouth Airport and located two 737s on the site. These began operating a series of regular flights to European destinations.


In December, EasyJet started a winter service to Geneva and Air Berlin started a new route to Pederborn in Germany. It can be seen just how large the increase was during 2005 with passenger number doubling from their 2004 levels to 917,000.


Between June and November 2006, Ryanair added regular service routes to Pisa, Shannon and Madrid. Bournemouth Airport was undergoing a transformation from a relatively small aircraft production airport into a busy regional civil airport, and with passenger numbers soaring it was time that Bournemouth had some much needed investment for new facilities.

In December 2006, Manchester Airport Group agreed to invest £32million to redevelop Bournemouth Airport. The main things that would be changed would be the addition of extra car parking and new arrivals and departures halls to replace the tiny terminal that had, until passenger number had started to rise drastically, proven sufficient.


Despite objections from local residents, Christchurch Borough Council granted the application on the 21st June 2007, subject to a variety of conditions including:


  • Maximum traffic of 3 million passengers per annum
  • Contributions to local road sytems
  • Contributions to subsidies of local bus routes
  • To use quieter aircraft


Whilst having various “action plans” in place, it is still the subject of local debate as to whether the Manchester Airport Group has fulfilled the public transport requirements to a satisfactory level. With their 2007 Travel Plan stating that they aim to encourage the use of public transport, and aim to reduce the amount of car and taxi journeys to and from the airport, there is still only one bus route that serves Bournemouth Airport, and due to the fare it is often more financially viable to either take a car, and if there are three or more passengers it is still usually cheaper to take a taxi.

Work started in August 2007 to rebuild the departures terminal, and size would be increased by 62%. In July 2008 the budget increased to £45 million and plans were now to include increasing the number of aircraft stands from four to eleven.


In 2008 the main runway was resurfaced, and construction of a new car park near to the south boundary had been completed.


In November 2008, Bournemouth Airport was voted the world’s third best airport by the Daily Telegraph Travel Awards.