Gatwick opened as an aerodrome in the late 1920s; it has been in use for commercial flights since 1933, and the first terminal, "The Beehive", was built in 1935. Scheduled air services from the new terminal began the following year. Major development work at the airport took place during the 1950s. The airport buildings were designed by Yorke Rosenberg Mardall between 1955 and 1988.
In the 1960s, British United Airways (BUA) and Dan-Air were two of the largest British independent airlines at Gatwick, with the former establishing itself as the dominant scheduled operator at the airport as well as providing a significant number of the airport's non-scheduled services and the latter becoming its leading provider of inclusive tour charter services. Following the takeover of BUA by Caledonian Airways at the beginning of the following decade, the resulting airline, British Caledonian (BCal), became Gatwick's dominant scheduled airline during the 1970s. Today, the airport has two terminals, the North Terminal and the South Terminal, which cover areas of 98,000 m2 and 160,000 m2 respectively. It operates as a single-runway airport, using a main runway with a length of 3,316 m (10,879 ft). A secondary runway is available but, due to its proximity to the main runway, can only be used if that is out of use. In 2018, 46.1 million passengers passed through the airport, a 1.1% increase compared with 2017. As of 2019, Gatwick is the second busiest airport in the world to operate only one runway (after Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport; until 2017, Gatwick was the busiest) with a passenger use of 46 million in 2018.