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He was sent for officer-training in India, and in due course joined the Indian Army's 15th Engineering Battalion.
His unit was flown into northern Burma at Myitkyina to provide engineering support for the American force there.
He went on to work on the design of Newcastle Airport, as well as others in Spain and the Middle East – and was an obvious choice for the BAA team when it was formed.
Norman Payne was raised to CBE in 1976 and knighted in 1985.
Although the site was 55 miles from central London, air traffic projections were alarming."The need for Maplin is imperative," Payne declared after he became chief executive of BAA in 1972.
Maplin was to have included a container port and a new town as well as an airport, but the economic crisis of 1973-74 put paid to the entire scheme.
He was also past retirement age, but his continuing presence reassured investors as BAA embarked on its new life in the private sector. BAA – and Payne personally – faced a storm of criticism over airport security following the Lockerbie bombing in December 1988.
By that stage, Payne noted, he had dealt with 10 secretaries of state and 13 permanent secretaries, "and had good relations with all of them".
Norman John Payne was born in London on October 9 1921, the son of a manager of the Blue Circle cement company.
He was educated at John Lyon School in Harrow, where he was head boy, and City and Guilds College – though he cut short his studies by volunteering for the Royal Engineers on the day war broke out in 1939.
Payne worked on the rebuilding of the railway to Mandalay, and on roads and bridges for armoured columns.
On one occasion American engineers told him that they had taken measurements for a vital bridge and were awaiting the arrival of prefabricated sections from up the line.
Payne and his men curtailed the delay by cutting green timber from the jungle, transporting it to site by elephant, and building an instant bridge – which, to the Americans' surprise, readily took the weight of advancing tanks.