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Thursday, 25 July, 2002, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
'I love Stansted just as it is'
BAA plc photo NO REUSE
Stansted could be bigger than Heathrow under government proposals announced this week. But Nathan Kosky, who wrote a book on the Essex airport's history, likes it the way it is.

I'm certainly not a plane-spotter but I am a vintage aviation enthusiast. That's how my interest in Stansted started, through all the vintage planes that used to fly out of there during World War Two.

Having been an American bomber base during the war, it played a role in liberating Europe - the planes from Stansted were the first ones over the beaches on D-Day.

US B-17 bombers
Stansted played its part in history
The fact that Stansted played a little part in such a major turning point in history fascinates me - that, and the fact that after a long period of stagnation, it's now one of the busiest airports in Europe. I wonder how many people walking through there realise its beginnings?

When Sir Norman Foster's new terminal opened in 1991, the airport took on a whole new life. Prior to that there was a small terminal - a pretty horrible 1960s pre-fab job, the kind of thing you might see at Heathrow.

Then just a few hundred thousand passengers used it each year, the kind of numbers that can go through in a month now that the low-cost airlines have taken off.

Sing its praises

To me it feels more like a modern American airport. The whole thing is fantastically planned, whereas most other UK airports grew organically.

The roofs are very high so there's a real feeling of space and airiness about it. Passengers don't have to go up and down stairs ever; there's a linear progression from the front doors through to your plane.

Today low-cost airlines dominate at Stansted
Stansted is much less aggravation to get to, it's always fresh and modern and clean, and feels much less crowded than Heathrow - well, it did up until a year or so ago.

And the current design has a lot of environmental considerations, such as a wildlife reserve, which keeps as much of the status quo as you can get near an airport.

But three runways and the amount of infrastructure needed to get all those people and flights through will have a massive impact.

It'll be very hard to maintain the relative calm that exists around it today. Go half a mile in any direction and it's still pretty rural. How that would change I can only imagine.

Echoes of the past

There are still one or two reminders of its WWII past, although I expect these will be cleared if the expansion goes ahead.

There's a hanger that was used during wartime, and the runway is the runway used by the bombers - obviously it's been extended and re-tarmaced, but it's still in the same place.

BAA plc photo NO REUSE
Light and compact compared to older airports
The improvements date from the 1950s when the Americans still had rights over it. In case there was a conflict with Russia, they extended the runway to cope with heavy bombers, which in turn meant it was capable of taking on the new breed of jets in the 1960s.

It would be some achievement if the planners could take Stansted that stage further without ruining the surrounding area and everything the existing airport has going for it. But can I just reiterate that I am not a plane-spotter?

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