Sumburgh Airport

(Shetland Islands Airport)

Sumburgh is Shetland's principal airport, located on a wide expanse of sandy links at the southern tip of the South Mainland, approximately 20 miles (32 km) south of Lerwick. It is operated by the government-owned Highland and Islands Airports Limited and has the International Air Transport Association (IATA) location code "LSI". Scheduled services run to Kirkwall and Fair Isle, together with Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness on the mainland. There are also summer flights to Bergen. A significant proportion of traffic represent fixed-wing and helicopter flights servicing the oil industry.

The first aircraft landed here on 18th April 1933, but it was not until three years later that a formal airport was established, with a grass airstrip. Aberdeen Airways began a scheduled service, with Captain Eric Starling (1911-97) landing the first flight on 2nd June 1936. A regular airmail service began the following year. With the outbreak of the Second World War, the airstrip was taken over by the Air Ministry and significant development took place, including the construction of three hard runways and the diversion of the main road to the west. 254 Squadron operated Bristol Blenheims from here in 1940-41, about the same time 232 Squadron were flying Hurricanes and later 404 Squadron (Royal Canadian Air Force) flew Bristol Beaufighters. Other aircraft operated from Sumburgh included Spitfires and Mosquito fighter-bombers. The airfield proved important for the defence of Shetland and for missions in the northern North Sea and Norway. Perhaps surprisingly, scheduled civilian traffic continued to use the field during the war years. Several wartime structures remain, including an underground battle headquarters.

The rapid expansion of oil-related traffic in the 1970s saw the airport become the fastest growing in the UK reaching a peak of 685,000 passengers and 51,000 aircraft movements in 1978. A new terminal was opened by HRH Princess Alexandra in 1979. The main runway was extended both to the west and the east in 2005-06, at the cost of £9.75 million, to allow larger aircraft to use the airport. This means that the A970 road now has to cross the runway, with barriers and lights closing the road as aircraft operations demand. While not at the heights of the 1970s, Sumburgh again became Scotland┬┐s fastest growing airport in 2014, with an 18.2% rise in passenger numbers to 319,597.

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