The land on which Gatwick Airport stands was first developed as an aerodrome in the late 1920s. The Air Ministry approved commercial flights from the site in 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[nb 2] 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. Further rapid growth of charter flights at Gatwick was encouraged by the Ministry of Aviation, which instructed airlines to move regular charter flights from Heathrow. 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. While continuing to dominate scheduled operations at Gatwick for most of the 1980s, BCal was also one of the airport's major charter airlines until the end of the 1970s (together with Dan-Air, Laker Airways and British Airtours). As a result of conditions imposed by Britain's Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the takeover of BCal by the then newly privatised British Airways (BA) at the end of the 1980s, Dan-Air and Air Europe assumed BCal's former role as Gatwick's dominant scheduled short-haul operator while BA continued in BCal's erstwhile role as the airport's most important scheduled long-haul operator. Following the demise of Air Europe and Dan-Air (both of which had continued to provide a significant number of charter flights in addition to a growing number of scheduled short-haul flights at Gatwick) in the early 1990s, BA began building up Gatwick into a secondary hub (complementing its main hub at Heathrow). These moves resulted in BA becoming Gatwick's dominant airline by the turn of the millennium. BA's subsequent decision to de-hub Gatwick provided the space for EasyJet to establish its biggest base at the airport and to become its dominant airline.
BAA Limited (now Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited) and its predecessors, BAA plc and the British Airports Authority, owned and operated Gatwick from 1 April 1966 to 2 December 2009.
From 1978 to 2008, many flights to and from the United States used Gatwick because of restrictions on the use of Heathrow implemented in the Bermuda II agreement between the UK and the US. US Airways, Gatwick's last remaining US carrier, ended service from Gatwick on 30 March 2013. This left Gatwick without a scheduled US airline for the first time in 35 years.
On 17 September 2008, BAA announced it would sell Gatwick after the Competition Commission published a report about BAA's market dominance in London and the South East. On 21 October 2009 it was announced that an agreement had been reached to sell Gatwick to a consortium led by Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), who also have a controlling interest in Edinburgh[nb 3] airport, for £1.51 billion. The sale was completed on 3 December. In February 2010, GIP sold minority stakes in the airport of 12% and 15% to the South Korean National Pension Service and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) for £100 million and £125 million, respectively. The sales were part of GIP's strategy to syndicate the equity portion of the original acquisition by issuing bonds to refinance bank debt. Although this entails bringing additional investors into the airport, GIP aims to retain management control. The Californian state pension fund CalPERS acquired a 12.7% stake in Gatwick Airport for about $155 million (£104.8 million) in June 2010. On 21 December 2010, the A$69 billion (£44 billion) Future Fund, a sovereign wealth fund established by the Australian government in 2006, agreed to purchase a 17.2% stake in Gatwick Airport from GIP for £145 million. This transaction completed GIP's syndication process for the airport, reducing its stake to 42% (although the firm's extra voting rights mean it still controls the airport's board).