Sir David Higgins was chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority from 2005 to 2011 and chief executive of Network Rail from 2011 to 2014.
He remains chairman of HS2 Ltd and a board member of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
At Gatwick, he succeeds Sir Roy McNulty, who becomes deputy chairman.
"I am delighted Sir David has accepted the appointment as the new Chairman of Gatwick,” said Sir Roy McNulty. “We worked closely together for over five years at the Olympic Delivery Authority. He combines a first class intellect with the ability to give clear strategic direction and make things happen. He is exactly the right person to lead Gatwick through the next chapter in its development.
Sir David Higgins said: “The progress Gatwick has made over recent years under Sir Roy McNulty's chairmanship has been remarkable. It is now firmly established as the UK's second airport and is a vital part of the London airports system. Whilst the case for Gatwick expansion in the future remains very strong, the challenge for Gatwick now is to continue to invest so it can maximise the use of its existing facilities and so can do even more for Britain in the coming years.”