During 1927 a group of local businessmen managed to raise £6000 through public subscriptions to start a flying club at Filton. By 1929 the flying club was proving to be a great success and it was then decided a farm located at Whitchurch on the outskirts of Bristol could be developed into a new airport. The first airport was opened in 1930 by Prince George the son of King George V.
This new airport was the third such airport in the UK and early passenger numbers grew from approximately 900 in 1930 to well over 4000 in 1939. It was thought that there was limited future for the airport after the Second World War, but in 1955 Bristol managed to win a ten year battle for a new city airport. This new airport was to be constructed at Lulsgate Bottom and the airfield was purchased by the Bristol Corporation for £55,000.
The Duchess of Kent opened the new airport in 1957 and the first year of operation saw 33,000 passengers and 608,000 kilos of freight pass through the newly opened airport. All of the Whitchurch airline operations and the Bristol and Wessex Aeroplane Club moved there. In its first year it was used by 33,000 people. In 1963 the runway was lengthened and in 1965 extensions were made to the terminal. In 1968 a new 5,000 square foot (460 m²) building was constructed.
Early success at the airport was reduced when in 1973 the collapse of “Court Line” had a dramatic effect on passenger numbers. However by 1980 things had improved and seventeen tour operators were now flying from Bristol. Additions in 1984 included an international departure lounge, duty free shops, a 24-hour air-side bar, an arrivals concourse, and a short-term car park. On 1 April 1987 all employees were transferred from Bristol City Council to Bristol Airport Public limited company. The operation and net assets of Bristol Airport were transferred from the City of Bristol and the company commenced trading. Over the next few years business boomed with over 100,000 passengers each month in the summer of 1988. The growth of the airport at this time is attributed to the work of the managing director Les Wilson, who died in a car crash in November 1995.
In March 1997 the airport’s name was changed to Bristol Airport, and in December 1997 51% of the airport company was sold to FirstGroup plc, while the remaining 49% was retained by Bristol City Council. A new terminal building was built in April 1999 and opened in March 2000 by HRH the Princess Royal. The old terminal building closed to the public and was converted to offices for many of the staff. 2000 also saw its first direct transatlantic flight in many years operating to Toronto by Royal Airlines. By 2000, passenger numbers exceeded two million for the first time.
The airport was purchased in January 2001 by Macquarie Bank and Cintra for £198m. Passenger numbers had passed through three million in 2002, largely due to the arrival of the low-cost airline Go Fly. Continued expansion by easyJet led to another increase in passengers now approximately 3.8 million. In May 2005, Continental Airlines introduced a direct flight from Bristol to Newark using Boeing 757 aircraft, this then ceased on 7 November 2010 due to low load factors.
In March 2010, the airport was rebranded as Bristol Airport. The airport gained a new logo, said by the airport’s owners to represent ‘people’, ‘place’ and ‘region’ with a new slogan “Amazing Journeys Start Here”.
Bristol Airport currently does not operate any jetways, so all aircraft have to park on the apron and passengers either walk out to their flights, or are carried by bus. On 28 May 2010, an £8M project finalised with the opening of a 450 metres (1,480 ft) walkway, which connects the terminal building to eight new pre-boarding zones. The promise is to “make the airport journey more convenient, easy and enjoyable”, and reducing the need for buses to take you to the aircraft.