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Welsh Air Hub: The History Of Cardiff Airport

Cardiff Airport (CWL) is located in the Vale of Glamorgan, 15 miles west of the Welsh city of Cardiff. It is the busiest airport in Wales and has since 2013 been under the ownership of the Welsh Government.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, these passenger numbers plummeted to levels not seen since the 1960s. Hopefully, with the United Kingdom and significant vacation destinations reopening for business, passenger numbers will return, and Cardiff Airport will continue to grow.

How Cardiff Airport came to be

In the early days of the Second World War, the Air Ministry requisitioned rural land in the Vale of Glamorgan near the village of Roose. Construction on an airfield began in 1941 with the intention to build a training facility for Spitfire pilots. On April 7, 1942, the airfield opened as RAF Roose and was home to the number 53 Operational Training Unit.

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Following the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 and the end of the war in Europe, the airfield was abandoned and fell into disrepair.

A Bridgend-born lawyer who had been a lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Artillery during the war named David Rees-Williams saw RAF Roose as a possible for Cardiff Airport (CWL) In 1945 Rees-Williams became an MP for the constituency of Croydon South and briefly served as Minister of Civil Aviation in 1951. During this period, he called for the building of a commercial airport to be undertaken in South Wales.

Now known as Lord Ogmore, he told the House of Lords that “a decision had to be taken whether to do nothing at all (which was the desire of some) or whether Pengam Moors, the existing airport for Cardiff, should be improved at a cost of some millions of pounds, involving the alteration of the course of the Rumney River or, thirdly, whether an entirely new airport should be constructed or acquired in the vicinity of the capital of Wales.”

He thought diverting the Rumney River at Pengam would be difficult and feared that the tall chimney stacks of the nearby East Moors Steelworks could pose a safety hazard to aircraft.

RAF Roose was chosen

The Welsh Civil Aviation Consultative Committee suggested that the former RAF facility at Roose could be a solution and asked Ogmore to investigate it. When looking into the possibility of the base being used as a civil airport, Ogmore found it in poor condition, with buildings in an extreme state of dilapidation. Despite this and the fact that bombs were still being stored there, he considered the site suitable, providing the money was there for rebuilding.


The government of the day accepted Ogmore’s proposal, and the Ministry of Aviation began turning the abandoned airfield into a commercial airport. In October 1952, the new Rhoose Airport was opened by Rees-Williams’s successor as Minister of Aviation, Alan Lennox-Boyd.

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Aer Lingus was the first airline to serve Roose Airport with a service between Cardiff and Dublin. On April 1, 1954, civilian flights from the old Cardiff Municipal Airport at Pengam Moors were transferred to Rhoose. A new international terminal followed as the airport added flights to Europe. Air charter operators followed, and by 1962, the airport was handling more than 100,000 passengers a year.

During the summer Vueling offers flights from Cardiff to Barcelona. Photo: Getty Images.

The airport was renamed Glamorgan (Rhoose) Airport in 1965 after its ownership was handed over to the Glamorgan County Council. The council he big plans for the airport that included building a new control tower, a new terminal, and an extension of the airport’s existing runway.

In the 1980s, the name was changed again to Cardiff Wales Airport, and a million pounds was spent adding another 750 feet to the runway to allow it to handle larger planes. Now able to accommodate Boeing 747s, British Airways built one of the world’s largest hangers to be used as a maintenance facility.

The Welsh Government buys the airport

During a reorganization of local government in Wales in 1995, the airport was privatized and sold to a property development firm called TBI plc. Criticism of how they operated the airport and the cost of landing fees soon followed, forcing the Welsh Government to step in and purchase the airport. Currently, Cardiff Airport(CWL) is served by the following airlines:

Seasonal:

  • BH Air
  • TUI Airways
  • Vueling
  • Wizz Air


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