Airport History

In the inter-war years, the City of Manchester, in its quest to establish a municipal airport, chose the location of Fox hill Farm, alongside the present A57 in 1928. This choice was strongly influenced by the City’s Cleansing Department’s ownership there of 2600 acres and additional persuasion by John Leeming, who went on to lead the Lancashire Aero Club into existence at the airfield.

Building of the Airport commenced in March 1929 and to initially reduce costs, the area was limited to 80 acres east of Fox Hill Glen.

The Airport officially opened on 29th January 1930 with completion of the Control Tower (the first in the UK) and a large Hangar, which was designed to house the most advanced passenger aircraft of the day, the Imperial Airways Argosy. The airport became the first municipal airfield in the UK to be licensed by the Air Ministry.

The first landing was by an Avro Avian, with the first large aircraft to use the airfield being Imperial Airway’s three-engine Argosy on 23rd May 1930.

From 16th June through until 20th September 1930, Imperial Airways were flying 3 times a week using Argosy and Handley Page W.8 and W.10 airliners from Croyden and Birmingham to Manchester (Barton) Airport. However, the airport was very quiet between 1931 and 1933 and in 1934, Manchester asked KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) if they would use the airport as a terminal for regular flights between Manchester and Holland. On 23 January 1934, Captain Ivan Smirnoff flew a Fokker F.XII three-engine airliner via Hull to the airport to assess its suitability. He commented;

‘The airfield is very small. Extensions would be very costly. From a meteorological standpoint (fog), this is the worst airfield in Europe known to me. Surrounding obstructions (chimneys, pylons etc) make approaches dangerous. Do not spend any more money on Barton, but find a more open ground. It is unfortunate that our [KLM’s] proposal for a joint airport for Manchester and Liverpool has been turned down’

It became clear that at this time, the airport was not ideally suited and KLM chose Liverpool’s new airfield as terminal for the service from Amsterdam via Hull. The rejection of Manchester (Barton) Airport and selection of Liverpool led directly to the city seeking an alternative site and on 25 July 1934, following a report by aeronautical consultants, a site at Ringway was approved, although only by one vote.

However, Manchester (Barton) Airport continued and after a period of operation by the Air Ministry during the second world war, it returned to use for general aviation use. In 2002, ownership of the airport was transferred to the Manchester Ship Canal Development Company, part of Peel Holdings. However, the airfield continued to be operated by the Lancashire Aero Club through until 2007 when the airport was renamed ‘City Airport (Manchester)’ and the operation of the airport was transferred to City Airport Manchester Ltd, later changed to City Airport Ltd, a subsidiary of Peel Airports. In 2011, management of the airport was moved away from Peel Airports, to Peel Holdings.

The airport now houses around 120 aircraft, and an increasing number of aviation related businesses and flying schools. Restoration and repair work on the Control Tower building (A Grade 2 listed building) was completed in 2006 and the airport is undergoing a phase of steady improvements to the facilities and services offered, giving the airport a positive outlook for its future.

Do you have any documented information or photographs from the early days of the airfield? If so, we’d love to include them here. Please contact us.

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