Airey was born in 1878, the son of William Airey. His older brother, John Robinson Airey (1868–1937) became a prominent mathematician. He attended Leeds Central High School and the Yorkshire College, and in 1904 married Edith Greaves: they had one son and four daughters. He took over his father's building business, W. M. Airey & Sons. During the First World War he was a transport advisor to the Ministry of Food. He and his company were very much involved with construction for the Ministry of Munitions, and then the Ministry of Health afterwards. It was for this and his work in social welfare that he was knighted in the King's Birthday Honours in 1922.
During the Second World War the company produced huts for American troops stationed in the UK. This led to the development of concrete slab units which could be quickly assembled into houses to replace those destroyed during the war. Prototypes were put up in Seacroft, Leeds in 1945, followed by hundreds in the London County Council area. A total of 20,000 Airey houses were ordered: they were two storey semi-detached houses, initially to be used as two flats, then to be converted into single family homes once the post-war housing crisis was over. They were intended to be permanent dwellings rather than temporary ones.
Airey contributed to sports in Yorkshire in several ways. He was chairman of the Leeds Cricket, Football and Athletic Company, and was responsible for the development of Headingley Stadium and its establishment of a major cricketing venue.
Airey was an active member of the Conservative Party and became Lord Mayor of Leeds 1923–1924. Other high offices included High Sheriff of Yorkshire 1944–1945; Chairman of the Rugby Football League 1951–1952, Chairman of the Yorkshire Branch of the Institution of Structural Engineers 1944–1945.
He died 14 March 1955.
- W. M. Ormerod (2000) The Lord Lieutenants and High Sheriffs of Yorkshire, 1066–2000 Wharncliffe Books
- John Robinson Airey biography
- Manchester Guardian 21 June 1923 p. 6 "The Lord Mayorality of Leeds"
- A. C. Fox-Davies (1929) Armorial Families p 18
- Engineering World (1925) p 56 "Distinguished English Constructor Pays America Visit"
- London Gazette 32716, 2 June 1922, p. 4318
- Building Research Station (1965) Special Report 36 Prefabrication pp. 182–3
- Manchester Guardian, 9 March 1945, p 6 "20,000 Prefabricated Houses Ordered
- Internet Movie Database Roundhay Garden Scene
- www.pastscape.org.uk Bass Headingly Stadium
- www.leeds.gov.uk Lord Mayors & Aldermen of Leeds since 1626
- Manchester Guardian 27 March 1944 p. 6 "The New Sheriffs"
- www.therfl.co.uk Past Chairmen of the Council
- The Structural Engineer (1944) p. 343
- The Times, 15 March 1955
- www.leodis.org Picture of Sir Edwin Airey accompanying Princess Mary at Headingley Cricket Ground, 1927
- www.leodis.org Picture of Edwin Airey with Princess Mary at Headingley Cricket Ground, 1927
- www.britishpathe.com Sir Edwin Airey, Lord Mayor of Leeds, opens the National Rose Show at Roundhay Park 15 July 1920