5 Terminals & 3 Runways: The History Of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport

Sheremetyevo International Airport is the largest of Moscow’s four airports and is located in Khimki, 29 km northwest of the city center. It has five terminals, four of which were constructed on this side of the 21st century. The main hub for Russian flag carrier Aeroflot, it also serves as a point of connectivity between Europe and Asia. In 2019, 49.4 million passengers boarded through the airport’s gates.

Moscow Airport Sheremetyevo
Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport began as a military airfield is now the busiest airport in Russia. Photo: Getty Images

Today, Sheremetyevo is a sprawling structure with several distinct terminals, one dating back to the days of the Soviet Union. Terminal F, the oldest terminal still standing, opened for the Summer Olympics in 1980. Meanwhile, the airport serving the megapolis of Moscow began operations as the main airdrome for the Soviet Air Force before being converted to a civilian airport in 1959.

The airport received competition in the early 2000s from the newer Domodedovo International Airport, prompting a flurry of expansion. Today, Sheremetyevo has five terminals and three runways, reigning supreme as the largest and busiest airport in the country.

First commercial flight was with a jet

The first commercial passenger flight arrived at Sheremetyevo with a Tupolev Tu-104 from what was then known as Leningrad on August 11th, 1959. The aircraft carried 100 passengers, 2.5 tons of cargo, 200 kg of mail, and 600 kg of baggage. Sheremetyevo’s first international flight took off nearly a year later, operated by an Ilyushin Il-18 to Berlin Schonefeld.

5 Terminals & 3 Runways: The History Of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport
Sheremetyevo 1 had very distinct architecture. Photo: Aleksandr Markin via Wikimedia Commons

The early expansion

In 1963, Aeroflot began flying from Moscow to Havana non-stop, operating a Tu-114. Sheremetyevo 1, with its distinct ‘flying saucer’ construction, opened in September 1964 with a capacity of 800 passengers per hour. By the end of the 1960s, the airport was serving 1.5 million passengers per year. A new runway was inaugurated in 1977 to increase capacity. The same year foundations were laid for the new terminal complex, Sheremetyevo 2, to be ready by the Moscow Summer Olympics in 1980.

Competition motivation

In the early 2000s, many foreign airlines began moving their operations to Domodedovo International Airport, located to the south of Moscow, at the time offering more modern facilities. Aeroflot pushed for a third terminal at the airport in order to increase capacity. The airport also renovated its second runway to be able to accommodate all types of widebody aircraft, including the Airbus A380.

5 Terminals & 3 Runways: The History Of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport
Terminal D serves as a hub for flag carrier Aeroflot and its SkyTeam partners. Photo: Vincenzo Pace / Simple Flying

Today’s terminals

Today, Sheremetyevo has five terminals. The oldest is Terminal F, still standing from 1980. Anyone who has traveled through it can attest that it feels a little like stepping back in time. It was the only terminal serving international flights up until Terminal C opened in 2008. Terminal C has since received a makeover. Its first section, C1, reopened in January 2020 and has a panned capacity for 20 million passengers. The second area, C2, is scheduled to open in 2026, adding 10 million in capacity.

Terminal D opened in 2009 and serves as a hub for Aeroflot along with its SkyTeam alliance partner carriers. Terminal B, which in its latest iteration opened in 2018, is the focus for domestic operations. Meanwhile, Terminal A serves business and private aviation. Terminal E, with only eight jet gates. It was opened in 2010 and serves as a connection facility between D and F, as well as houses the railway station connecting the airport to the city center.

Meanwhile, Sheremetyevo opened its third runway only in September 2019. It was inaugurated with an Aeroflot flight from St Petersburg, bringing the story of the airport up until that point to a symbolic full circle.

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