Gander’s beginnings date back to 1936 when the construction of the international airport began in earnest. By the end of 1937, a 900-person team had begun construction. A few years later the airfield had four paved runways – the largest airport in the world at the time.
On January 11, 1938, the first airplane landed at Gander. It was a Fox Moth VO-ADE, operated by Imperial Airways for the Newfoundland Government and flown by Captain Douglas Fraser.
World War II
By the outbreak of war in September 1939, Gander was ready for civil operations. The value of a functioning airport in such a strategic position was unique. Gander was the only operative airport in the Maritimes.
Thus, the airport at Gander became the main staging point for the movement of Allied aircraft to Europe during World War II. Gander’s location on the Great Circle Route made it an ideal wartime refuelling and maintenance depot for bombers flying overseas.
In November 1940, Captain D.C.T. Bennett left Gander for Europe, leading the first fleet of seven Lockheed Hudson bombers across the Atlantic during the Battle of Britain. More than 20,000 North American-built fighters and heavy bombers would follow.
In 1942, the Newfoundland Government handed over the control of the airport to the Canadian Government and it became a military airfield, with a continuous delivery of planes to the war zone.
In 1945, the Newfoundland government took over control of the airport again. By the end of the year, Pan-American World Airways, Trans-World Airline, Trans Canada Airlines (later Air Canada), and British Overseas Airway Corporation (later British Airways) begin regular Atlantic air service through Gander. Gander handled 13,000 aircraft annually and a quarter million passengers, requiring a new $3 million terminal to be built and opened in June 19, 1959.
By the 1950s, Gander airport was one of the busiest international airports in the world, buoyed by transoceanic traffic.
The Jet Age
The early 1960’s saw a decline in and the arrival of the jet age. This led to a decrease in the use of Gander by these scheduled air carriers, since they now had the capability of flying the Atlantic without stops.
In the early 1980’s, IL-62s of Aeroflot (Russia), CSA (Czechoslovakia), Cubana (Cuba), Interflug (East Germany) and LOT (Poland) visited Gander daily on flights from Eastern Europe and the Americas. Interflug, Cubana, and Aeroflot also used Gander for the Moscow and Berlin to Havana route.
The fact that stop-overs were made at Gander soon became known to potential refugees, and it was not uncommon to have defectors declare political asylum at the airport. The resulting tightening of customs and immigration policy served to effectively eliminate much of this traffic.
As time moved on, Gander International Airport adapted to changes in the industry. Today, technical stops remain a significant economic generator for the airport, especially with growth in the corporate/private jet market. In fact, twenty percent of business jets flying the North Atlantic stop at Gander. Thus, we are able to continue to offer our services to travellers from around the world decades after we first started.