History of Belfast Airport

Belfast Airport history header

Welcome to Belfast Airport. Let’s step back in time with some airport history facts, figures and famous people!

Fun facts about Belfast Airport:

  • When it was built, Belfast International Airport was originally called Aldergrove
  • The site dates back to 1917 as an airport
  • Belfast is the second largest airport in Ireland
  • Over 5 million passengers travel through every year
  • Famous passengers include the Beatles in the 1964

So how did it all begin? 1917 – 1946

historic plane at Belfast in the early 1920s

1917
Aldergrove was selected to be the Royal Flying Corps training establishment during the First World War.

1918
After World War I, Aldergrove remained open for Royal Air Force aircraft and for the fledgling civil traffic to and from Northern Ireland.

1921
Royal visitors, King George V and Queen Mary visited Northern Ireland. It was quite the affair, with aircraft landing at Belfast (then called Aldergrove) with cameramen and reporters and returned to London with newsreel films and photographs of the event.

1925
This year saw Northern Ireland’s own Special Reserve unit No 502 (Ulster) Squadron RAF formed at Aldergrove.

1933
Northern Ireland’s first regular civil air service started in 1933 with a Glasgow to Aldergrove route operated by Midland and Scottish Air Ferries.

1934
By 1934, Aldergrove was Northern Ireland’s civil airport and this year saw the first London service begin to Nutts Corner. The flight flew from Croydon, via Birmingham and Manchester to Belfast and was operated by Railway Air Services.

1945
During the second World War, Aldergrove remained an airbase. After the war civil flights were moved back to Aldergrove due to less variable weather conditions than at Nutts Corner.

Aldergrove to Belfast International. 1960s – 1980s


The beatles at Belfast Airport in the 60s

1963
Operations by the 1960s were transferred to Aldergrove and the first passenger flight to land was a BEA Viscount from Manchester. In October this year HRH Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother reopened Aldergrove as a civil airport and introduced the terminal building.

1964
On their tour of the UK, the Beatles came through Belfast International and caused quite a stir!

1966
The first regular jet service began in 1966 with a British United BAC 1-11 to Gatwick. By 1969 annual passengers at the airport had reached 1 million.

1969
The Minister of Development announced an expansion plan for the airport to cope with the increased passengers numbers. It cost £3 million.

1983
The airport became officially known as Belfast International in the early 1980s, having been refered to as Aldergrove up until now.

The beginning of the millenium and beyond. 1990s onwards


UAE Dubai Expo plane landing at Belfast Intl.

1995
Famous passengers, President Bill Clinton and first lady, Hillary Clinton via an official Air Force One.

2003
The concorde visited on it’s farewell tour.

Today
Belfast International Airport is the principal gateway to the north of Ireland and sees over 5 million passengers through the terminal each year.