In 1957 the Government of Ireland agrees in principle to the building of an airport for Cork. After considering many sites in the area, it is agreed that the airport should be built at Ballygarvan. Tenders are invited for the construction of the airport in 1959 at an estimated cost of £1 million. The airport is officially opened on October 16, 1961, following proving flights four days earlier by Aer Lingus and Cambrian Airways. Vincent Fanning is the first manager at the airport. In its first year the airport handles 10,172 passengers – close to the average number of passengers handled each day at the airport in 2007. Throughout the 1960s the airport expands with the arrival of more advanced aircraft and more destinations. The first jet, a British Overseas Airways Corporation de Havilland DH 106 Comet, lands at Cork Airport on March 29, 1964. By 1969 Aer Lingus is operating to London‘s Heathrow Airport, Manchester Airport and Bristol Airport.
In 1975 Aer Rianta, the then state airports authority, undertakes a passenger terminal study aimed at improving the terminal facilities. The findings result in the provision, over the next two years, of new departure and arrival halls, a new check-in area, office complex, information desk, duty office and executive lounge. The new extensions and facilities are opened in 1978.
The 1980s begin with an extension of the main apron. New services to London Gatwick begin, while Aer Lingus’ commuter division starts a new domestic service to Dublin Airport. In 1985 following significant growth, Aer Rianta carries out a survey of the terminal facilities with a view to carrying out a major expansion and development programme. On June 8, 1987, Ryanair commences services at Cork Airport. Phase I of the Terminal Expansion and Development Plan is completed in 1988. The following year the main runway extension of 1,000 feet is opened.
The 1990s begin with the completion of Phase II of the terminal expansion in 1991 and Phase III being completed in 1992 with the plan being brought to completion in 1994.
In 2001 plans are drawn up for the construction of a new terminal building and ancillary capital investment works at an estimated cost of €140 million. Along with the construction of the terminal, roads are upgraded from single to dual carriageway and re-aligned, and a new short term multistorey car park is constructed. The new terminal opens on August 15, 2006. Designed by HOK and Jacobs Engineering Group, the new terminal is the first built in Ireland in the 21st century.
In June 2008, the Irish Aviation Authority completes a new control tower 1 km from the old terminal to the west of the main runway. However, it takes until mid-October 2009 to get all the new systems tested and working. The new control tower officially opens on 20 October 20, 2009.
In 2013, Cork Airport is placed first for overall customer satisfaction in a global survey of passengers carried out by Airports Council International Europe. The survey measures customer satisfaction across eight categories in 61 regional airports worldwide, with Cork Airport scoring highest.
In June 2017, the airport is named as “Best Airport in Europe under 5 million passengers” at the 27th Airports Council International (ACI) Europe General Assembly.