London Luton Airport is one of the UK's largest airports and carried 9.5 million passengers in 2011.
The Airport directly and indirectly employs over 500 and 8,000 staff respectively, is a key economic driver for the region and a major base for 'low cost' or 'no frills' air travel.
In a pioneering public-private partnership deal signed in August 1998, London Luton Airport remains publicly owned by Luton Borough Council but is operated managed and developed by a private consortium, London Luton Airport Operations Ltd, for a period of 30 years.
A specialist airport management company, TBI plc, became the majority shareholder in London Luton Airport Operations Ltd in March 2001 when they increased their shareholding by buying shares from Barclays Private Equity and Barclays UK Infrastructure Fund.
In January 2005 TBI plc was taken over Airport Concessions & Development Ltd., (ACDL) a company owned by Abertis Infraestructuras (90%), and Aena Internacional (10%) - both of Spain.
Abertis is one of Europe's leading infrastructure providers with a market capitalisation of some €8bn euros.
Aena Internacional is the international business arm of Aena, the Spanish national airport and air traffic control organisation owns and operates 47 airports across the Iberian Peninsula with some 155m passengers using its airports. Aena also has operations in Central and Southern America.
London Luton Airport was officially opened on 16 July 1938 as "Luton Municipal Airport" by the Right Honourable Kingsley Wood, Secretary of State for Air. The airport was owned by the Borough of Luton and, even in those early days, it was considered that Luton ought to be designated the northern terminal for London.
During the war years, the airport continued to operate as a commercial aerodrome as well as being the base for 264 Fighter Squadron. It was also an important manufacturing site at which the Percival Aircraft Company designed and built a series of aircraft for both civil and military use - including the famous Mosquito fighter bomber - "The Wooden Wonder", which was built under licence from the De Havilland Aircraft Company.
Development of the civil use of the airport continued after the war and in 1952 a new control tower was opened. The 1950's and 1960's saw the birth of affordable holidays which combined the transport and accommodation arrangements into a single 'package'. The 'package holiday' enabled many people to travel abroad for the first time and laid the foundations of the immensely successful inclusive tour holiday market.
London Luton Airport played an important role in the development of the inclusive tour holiday business in the UK. A key event in the growth of charter traffic at Luton took place in 1962 with the formation of a new charter airline called Euravia. At the end of 1964 Euravia changed its name to Britannia Airways and again in 2004 as part of the TUI Group to Thomsonfly and then to Thomson Airways. Now, Thomson Airways is one of the world's largest charter airlines and is still based at the airport.
In 1968, another charter operation, Monarch Airlines, was formed. Monarch are also based at London Luton and have continued to develop both charter and scheduled passenger operations here over the last 4 decades.
The growth of the inclusive tour market at London Luton Airport was such that in 1969 a survey revealed that a fifth of all holiday flights from the UK departed from Luton Airport. By 1972 Luton had become Britain's most profitable airport.
Luton suffered a huge setback in 1974 when a major tour operator, Clarksons and its airline Court Line, went into liquidation. This sent shockwaves throughout the travel industry but had a particularly serious impact on Luton where Court Line was a large airline operator.
A Government White Paper published in 1978 recognised Luton as an integral part of the London airports system. The airport's committee began to prepare to take London Luton Airport into the 1990s and on to five million passengers per annum. As part of the development, a new international terminal building was opened by HRH The Prince of Wales in 1985.
In 1986 Monarch Airlines started Monarch Crown Service scheduled flights to Spain and Irish airline Ryanair launched scheduled services from Luton to Ireland. This was the start of the growth of scheduled air services from London Luton Airport which have now become 92 per cent of the business volume.
Another key event in 1986 was the Airports Act that required local authority owners of airports to establish their airports as companies with a Board to manage the business. In 1987 the Airport - by this time called "Luton International Airport" became a Limited Company with Luton Borough Council as sole shareholder. The airport was renamed London Luton Airport in 1990 to reflect its true standing in the London airport network.
By 1990 the scheduled service traffic was growing substantially due largely to Ryanair. It was therefore a major blow to the airport when in 1991 Ryanair moved most of their business to the newly opened terminal at Stansted Airport. This caused another sharp decline in the number of passengers using London Luton Airport and put the business back into loss.
In 1991 following local elections, and after an unsuccessful attempt to sell the airport, a new management team was appointed to stop the losses being made by the airport and reverse the decline in passenger numbers. This changed the role of Luton Borough Council to an arm's length shareholder. The brief to the new management team was to run the airport on a commercial basis and produce benefits to the Borough through the development of new business and growth of employment.
Between 1992 and 1996, £30 million was invested in the airport infrastructure which resulted in a considerable upgrading of facilities. These upgraded facilities included a new air traffic control tower, new cargo centre, the extension and refurbishment of the passenger terminal, new access road, extension of the car parking adjacent to the passenger terminal and the installation of Category 3 Instrument Landing System.
During late 1995 London Luton Airport helped pioneer an entirely new concept in Europe - 'low cost' or 'no frills' flying - by becoming the first UK base for easyJet. The gradual introduction of new routes by easyJet in particular saw passenger numbers rise from 1.9 million in the financial year 1995/6 to 3.4 million passengers in 1997/8.
By 1998/9 the number of passengers had increased to 4.4 million and London Luton Airport was the UK's fastest growing major airport according to Civil Aviation Authority statistics. The passenger mix had also changed considerably. Whereas in 1992, only 23 per cent of passengers were on scheduled services, by 1998 that figure had risen to 68 per cent.
If London Luton Airport was to expand any further, additional financial investment had to be secured. This resulted in the signing of a unique private-public partnership in August 1998 which meant that the airport remains publicly owned by Luton Borough Council but is operated, managed and developed by a private consortium for a period of 30 years.
As a result of the new financial backing, an £80 million development programme was completed in Autumn 1999. The main feature of this development phase was a £40 million terminal, based on an original design by Foster and Partners, which HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh officially opened in November 1999. The terminal houses 60 check-in desks, "state of the art" baggage and flight information systems and a wide range of shops, restaurants and bars.
Other improvements during the first development phase included the extension of the parallel taxiway, the construction of six new aircraft stands wide enough to accommodate Boeing 767-300 aircraft, the widening and strengthening of the taxiway that links the runway with the new east apron and the cargo centre and the upgrading of car park facilities, including new business and long term car parks.
Also in November 1999, Railtrack opened the new £23 million London Luton Airport Parkway station. Located on the Thameslink line with courtesy buses shuttling passengers 1.8 km to and from the terminal, the journey using the "Luton Airport Express" can take less than 60 minutes from the aircraft doors to alighting in Central London.
In early 2000 work to refurbish the existing terminal building saw it become a larger airside departures and arrivals area with 15 new retail and catering outlets open along with improved baggage reclaim facilities. The Airport has invested tens of millions of £s since then and other improvements in the last 5 years have included the building of an entirely new taxiway and aircraft stands - and the extension, widening and strengthening of existing taxiways. Passenger comfort and convenience has also been enhanced through the building of an airside elevated walkway with dedicated boarding lounges and gates arrayed along almost the entire length of the main apron.
To meet the ever increasing demand created by rapidly growing passenger numbers work then became underway in September 2004 on the largest civil engineering project undertaken at the airport since the building of the New Terminal Building in 1999. On 01 July 2005, London Luton Airport opened the new £35 million Passenger Terminal Development. This included a 7400m2 Departure Lounge & Retail / Catering complex, a 6-Gate, 200 metre long Boarding Pier and associated new Security, Immigration and Customs Halls. The Departure Lounge & Retail Complex development undertaken within the 1st Floor of the existing main Passenger Terminal, an area which has lain 'fallow' since the building was officially opened in November 1999.
London Luton currently supports the following scheduled airlines - easyJet, Wizz Air, Ryanair, Monarch, Thomson, Aer Lingus, El Al, Blue Air, Flybe and Adria Airways. Charter flights are operated by Thomson, First Choice, Monarch and Israir. The Airport now offers passengers an extensive choice of both scheduled and charter services including frequent departures to over 90 destinations, including services to Europe, Africa and Asia, with onward connections to Mumbai, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Beijing and Bangkok via Tel Aviv.