IPSWICH AIRPORT - A BRIEF HISTORY


The history of Ipswich Airport began on 20th October 1928 when the Air Ministry issued a circular letter to municipalities inviting them to develop aerodromes and landing grounds, stating that sooner or later every town of importance would find it necessary to have an airport just like it had roads and railway stations.

In 1929, Ipswich Corporation negotiated for the purchase of 147 acres of land on which to construct a municipal airport, and it was on this land, lying between Priory Heath and the River Orwell that construction was started in he early months of 1930.

Sixty trees had to be removed by explosives and many ditches filled in as well as the removal of 2,400 yards of fencing. By the time fences had been re-erected around the perimeter the net area was reduced to 144 acres. Little levelling was required and no drainage problems were encountered due to the light soil, and so the land was ploughed, harrowed, seeded with grass and then rolled.

A circle 110 feet outside diameter and 100 feet inside diameter was laid in chalk to denote a landing ground in the custom of the day and the word IPSWICH was laid out in a similar manner.

The total cost of the entire airfield, including the cost of the land, was £13,245.

The prospective lessees were the Suffolk and Eastern Counties Aeroplane Club which was operating out of Hadleigh and Cambridge Aerodromes. Negotiations were completed to bring the hangars over from Hadleigh and Cambridge together with the clubhouse from Hadleigh which included a lounge, office with telephone, kitchen and toilets. The club house and hangars were situated at the extreme Northern corner of the aerodrome but have since been demolished.  In 1930 some 78 additional acres of land were leased to the club for aerodrome use

In the clear summer sunshine of  26th June 1930, aircraft from all over England and a few from Germany were lined up on the new airfield ready to greet H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor who was to perform the opening ceremony, and in his opening speech described the airfield as “one of the finest in the country”. A large crowd then watched a display of aerobatics, aerial gunnery, parachuting and joy-riding.

In the second half of 1936 the aerodrome was taken over by the Whitney-Straight Organisation which ran a chain of flying clubs throughout the country.

Under the new management plans were put in hand for the construction of a new terminal building, hangar and car park.

On Saturday, 9th July 1938, the new facilities were opened by Captain H. Balfour, M. C., M. P., Under Secretary of State for Air, as part of the celebrations of the Suffolk Air Day. A crowd estimated at 30,000 people watched the opening ceremony as well as a flying display

1938 also saw the start of a daily air service to Clacton, leaving Ipswich at 1030 and returning at 2030. The return fare was 9/6d, and flying time was 15 minutes each way.

Also in July 1938 the Civil Air Guard came into being, and a branch was soon established at Ipswich. Under the term of this para-military organisation members of the general public were taught to fly at rates which were heavily subsidised by the Government, and the ranks of the local flying club were swelled considerably.

On 3rd July 1939 a Reserve Flying Training School was established to train Volunteer pilots. To accommodate the RAF Volunteer personnel and aircraft , a new hangar was built along with an extension to the terminal building.

At the outbreak of World War II, the whole of the aerodrome was requisitioned by the Air Ministry. During the period of  requisition more buildings and facilities were provided by the Air Ministry and included a large hangar with ancillary offices, a garage , a synthetic operatons room and a further extension to the original building.

By the end of September 1939 the RAF had moved some of their Blenheim light bombers to Ipswich from Wattisham. The Blenheims continued to use Ipswich for a considerable time and carried out a number of sorties from the airfield.

1941 saw the first of a number of minor units to be based at Ipswich, and in March 1942 Ipswich became a satellite airfield of Martlesham Heath. During the summer seven squadrons of Spitfires were based for short periods at Ipswich Airport, usually one at a time. After the departure of the last of these squadrons in September, 1488 (Fighter) Gunnery Flight was detached to Ipswich from Martlesham Heath for a time, but otherwise the airfield was quiet until on 1st March 1943 it was raised to full RAF Station status. A number of units came and went including the Air Observation Post Squadron whose Austers arrived at Ipswich in November 1943 from Scotland.

During the last year of the war, the only resident unit was 679 Squadron, which continued its work until disbanding on 26 June 1945.

The Airfield was placed on Care and Maintenance basis on 1st August 1945. Civil flying recommenced in 1946 when ten local businessmen contributed to buy an Auster Autocrat. The Suffolk Aero Club was also revived and operated two Taylorcraft for a short time, but the Airport was not used intensively until 1953 when East Anglian Flying Service took a lease on the site. Starting at Easter 1954, EAFS ran a scheduled service from Ipswich to Southend and the Channel Islands with four Dragon Rapides. The East Anglian Flying Club also came into being that year.

East Anglian Flying Services became Channel Airways in 1962, and although operations continued at Ipswich other bases were set up at Southend and later Stansted. Aircraft operated included De Havilland Doves and Herons, along with Douglas Dakotas and Bristol Freighters.

In July 1966 the Aerodrome and all the buildings other than the large hangar were leased to Channel Airways for 21 years. Plans were drawn up for an airport restaurant and motel, but these never came to fruition.

Channel Airways went into liquidation in 1972, and the lease was taken over on 31st May 1972 by Lonmet (Aviation) Ltd who set up the British School of Flying. The flying school’s main activity was to provide flying training for cadets of the Air Training Corps on flying scholarships. They also provided facilities for other ab initio and advanced training.

Lonmet went into liquidation in 1976 after losing the ATC training contract, and the airport lease was taken over by Flairavia Ltd.

By the early 1980s, Ipswich Airport was home to three flying schools, a parachute centre and an aircraft maintenance buiness. Business charter flights took place from the Airport on a regular basis.

In 1980 the airport lease was purchased by the Ipswich Co-Operative Society Ltd. While the Co-Op originally stated that they intended to run the site as an airport, plans were soon submitted to develop part of the site for non-aviation purposes including a new superstore. The proposal provided for continued flying on one runway, with a new club house to replace the terminal building which was to have been demolished.

Although backed by the council, these proposals were rejected at a Public Inquiry. In his report of February 1983 the Inspector said that the airfield was “of more than just local importance”,  and he ruled that it should be maintained in its existing lay-out. Following discussions with airport users the Borough Council eventually agreed to support continued operation of the airport, and the following was included in the 1984 Draft Local Plan:

It is proposed to retain the airport as a two-runway grass airfield, for mainly recreational and business use by light aircraft. This decision recognises the airport’s potential importance for job creation and economic prosperity in the Ipswich area. Improvements to facilities will be encouraged. As part of a programme of revitalising the airport, aviation related industry and/or suitable leisure uses, such as a transport museum, will be encouraged in the general area of the present terminal buildings, subject to their causing no nuisance to nearby residents. If necessary, and if economically viable, a new small terminal building, flying club premises, maintenance hangars etc., could be provided alongside the airport perimeter road

The Co-Operative continued to operate the airfield until 1985 when a sub-lease was granted to Harvest Air of Southend. Various improvements were carried out at the Airport over the next two years including runway lights, a new car park and a refurbished bar. The Control Tower was also refurbished and brought back into use.

1986 saw the return of scheduled air services to Ipswich when Suckling Airways started operating flights to Amsterdam and Manchester using an 18-seater Dornier 228. The services proved highly successful, and over 12,000 passengers were carried in the first year.

In September 1987 the two directors of Harvest Air died in a flying accident, and the running of the Airport was taken over by Harvest Air’s parent company, Region Air.

Differences arose between Region Air and Suckling Airways in the latter part of 1987, and the problem of ‘churning up the runways’ was the stated reason for banning the Dornier 228 from using Ipswich Airport in March 1988. Suckling Airways was able to operate from RAF Wattisham for a few months but eventually relocated to Cambridge.

In 1988 Region Air put forward proposals to replace the airport's two grass runways by a single hard runway and sell the rest of the site for housing.   These proposals were met with considerable opposition as they would have meant the end of parachuting at Ipswich Airport as well as placing considerable restrictions on flying training.

A Council working group was set up to discuss Region Air’s proposals, and in January 1989 the Borough Council voted to reject the plans, at the same time announcing its long-term intention to close the Airport and replace it by a new airport on an out-of-town green field site.

In early 1989, Region Air were paid £1.2m by the Council to relinquish their lease

On the departure of Region Air, the Council took over the direct operation of the airport, followed by the announcement of a date for its eventual closure which was 31 December 1993.

The closure was announced at a time when business at Ipswich Airport was booming. 1990 was the busiest year in the Airport’s history with more than 43,000 aircraft movements in total. Resident businesses at the airport included three fixed-wing flying schools, a helicopter school, a parachute centre, a maintenance organisation and various ancillary companies. There was also a thriving restaurant and bar.

Throughout the early 1990s Ipswich Airport hosted regular public events including airshows and the popular Land Air Rally, an annual gathering of vintage vehicles and historic aircraft.

While many other airports receive regular noise complaints from nearby residents - and some have even become the victims of concerted campaigns for their closure - Ipswich Airport always had the support of those who live in its vicinity. Opinions polls carried out by local newspapers have consistently shown a 90% majority in favour of keeping the airport, and various “Keep the airport” petitions have been presented to the Council over the years including one containing more than 20,000 signature.

Over the following years a number of potential new airport sites were identified, but all proved unsuitable on closer investigation. Various “compromise” proposals were also put forward for the existing site but these were all rejected by Ipswich Borough Council.

In late 1993 the businesses at the Airport were invited to relinquish their protected tenancies in return for a guarantee that the Airport would remain open for at least another two years. Agreement was reached in November 1993, and new two-year leases were duly signed.

June 1995 saw the arrival at Ipswich of Hawk Air, a new air taxi company offering charter flights to destinations all over Europe using a fleet of executive-type twin engined aircraft. While the company’s head office was at Cambridge Airport, Ipswich soon became an important secondary base, and the company’s flights were used by businesses from all over the area.

By October 1995 the businesses at the Airport had been offered a one-year extension to their original two-year leases, and there was quiet confidence that the Airport would remain open for the foreseeable future. The Airport’s air traffic service was upgraded in September 1996, and major runway maintenance work was scheduled for early October.

However, in late September Ipswich Borough Council made a sudden announcement that the Airport would close at the end of the year. The decision caused an uproar among both Airport users and local residents alike, and over the next three months numerous attempts were made to persuade the Council to re-think. These all proved unsuccessful despite there being clear indication that redevelopment of the site was unlikely to take place for some considerable time, and despite an earlier promise from Ipswich Borough Council to allow flying to continue “until the bulldozers are ready to move in.”

Most airport users decided to defy notices to quit, and a defiant all-day party on 1 January 1997 marked the beginning of what was to be known as "The Occupation of Ipswich Airport".  Various protest events were held over the following months including two protest marches and a lobby at the House of Commons. Easter Monday saw a colourful rally and family fun day outside the Pitts Bar which the Council tried to disrupt by sending in security guards.

Writs were eventually issued against those in occupation, and both Suffolk Aero Club and the Ipswich School of Flying moved out in early March to avoid costly High Court action.  The Pitts Bar initially remained defiant but was eventually forced to close on 11th May - by which time most of the privately-owned aircraft had also left. A Cessna 150 continued to use the Airport for a further two months but finally departed on 12th August 1997. One further light aircraft remained on rebuild in the small hangar. This finally took off in January 1998.
 


  Home Page     Contact us     Airport History     Terminal Building     Reunions     Other airfield campaigns