The Rise And Fall Of Newfoundland’s Gander Airport

Gander Airport might only be a Canadian domestic airport now, but it wasn’t always like that. The airport once served as a critical stopover destination for airlines flying across the Atlantic and operated four runways at its peak. So what happened to this once bustling airport? Let’s find out.

Gander Airport
Gander Airport once served as a huge airline base for transatlantic flights. Photo: john via Flickr

Location

Located on the eastern tip of Newfoundland (and hence North America), Gander Airport found itself in a strategic location. The airport first opened in 1938 and became critical during the second world war, providing stopovers for thousands of warplanes from Canada and the US flying to Europe at the height of the war.

Once the war ended, Gander’s popularity as a stopover destination remained; this time for passenger flights. Pan Am used a DC-4 from Gander to Shannon Airport as a trial for transatlantic flights in September 1945, kicking off two decades of connecting flights.

Gander Airport Lockheed TriStar
Early aircraft needed one or more stops to fly from North America to Europe. Photo: David Wipf via Flickr

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the beginning of the Jet Age, aircraft like the Douglas DC-4 and Lockheed Constellation did not have the range to cross the Atlantic without stops. Hence, airports like Gander became critical to operations, with carriers stopping for a quick refueling before carrying on their journey.

From the 1940s to the 1960s, Gander Airport saw its traffic rise exponentially. Airlines like BOAC, Air France, SAS, KLM, TWA, Pan Am, and several others used Gander on their journeys from the US to Europe. Trans-Canada Airlines was one of the few Canadian airlines using Gander as a stop to London.

To cater to the traffic, Gander had four active runways since the 1940s and featured a huge terminal to cater to the thousands of passengers connecting every day. However, similar to the story of other airports like Alaska, new aircraft meant that Gander’s popularity would not last for much longer.

Boeing 707 Getty
The rise of the Boeing 707 and similar aircraft in the late 1950s eliminated the need for stopover airports like Gander. Photo: Getty Images

The introduction of the de Havilland Comet 4 and Boeing 707 suddenly in the late 1950s made direct flights from North America to Europe a reality. While this was a significant jump for passengers and airlines, it did leave stopover airports behind.

By the 1960s, the importance of Gander Airport began to fade as more and more airlines chose to fly direct. However, the airport’s Air Traffic Control (Gander Oceanic Control) system remained key for transatlantic flights. By the 1970s, the airport’s stopover presence had effectively ended thanks to the rise of the Boeing 747.

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Diversion

Nowadays, Gander Airport still plays a small role in transatlantic flight through diversions. Airlines routinely divert to Gander in case of any onboard issues since its location makes it quick to reach. While the airport still attracts a small number of cargo services, it is now mainly a regional airport, catering to a handful of domestic destinations.

What do you think about the history of Gander Airport? Did you ever have a stopover there? Let us know in the comments!

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