We often look at the history and development of aircraft on Simple Flying, but what about airports? With aviation developing in the US and Europe, it won’t come as a surprise that many of the oldest airports are located there. But what are the oldest airports that are still operational today? This article takes a look at eight of the oldest.
1. College Park Airport, United States
The prize for the oldest airport in the world, still in operation, goes to College Park Airport, Maryland, US. It was established in 1909 and refers to itself as the ‘Cradle of Aviation.’
The airport has its origins tied up with the Wright Brothers. Wilbur and Orville Wright flew the first powered airplane on December 17th, 1903, near Kitty Hawk in North Carolina – for just 12 seconds. By 1905 they had improved this and flew for 39 minutes. Further flying was then on hold until the brothers secured contracts.
College Park was opened as part of the Wright Brothers expansion. It was initially a base for Wilbur Wright to train military officers to fly the US government’s first aircraft, a Wright Type A biplane. The airport went on to house the United State’s first military aviation school, which opened in 1911.
Today, it is still in use as a gateway airport for private aviation. It has an onsite museum displaying many of the aircraft from its history, including a replica Wright Flyer, a replica Bleriot XI, and several Curtiss and early Boeing aircraft.
2. Hamburg Airport, Germany
Hamburg is the oldest airport in Germany still operating, and the second oldest in the world. It opened in 1911 as a base for Zeppelin airships. The airport was taken over for military use during the First World War and largely destroyed, but re-emerged in 1919. It was used as a staging area during the Berlin Airlift after the Second World War.
It then grew as a major international airport for the country. Lufthansa launched passenger services in 1955, with Hamburg as the main base before Frankfurt. And Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) launched services between New York, London, and Hamburg in 1959. It remains an important international airport today, although it has been overtaken in passenger volume by Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf, and Tegel.
Germany did have an older airport. Berlin Templehof airport opened in 1909. Its first year saw demonstration flights by Orville Wright and French aviator Armand Zipfel. It served as the head base of Deutsche Luft Hansa from its founding in 1926, a major base during the Second World War, and the main airport for Berlin until expansion took off at Tegel from the 1960s. It closed in 2008.
3. Shoreham Airport, UK
The UK’s oldest airport is at Shoreham, near Brighton. It opened in 1910 with a number of flying enthusiasts using it as a base for bold, early flights. The first (according to the airport’s documented history) was Harold Piffard.
He was one of the first British aviators and had experimented with aircraft since 1909. Together with a business partner, he opened Shoreham as a base to fly his Hummingbird aircraft. This never flew more than a mile but was an important starting point for UK aviation!
Piffard moved on to other areas, but Shoreham remained. A flight school opened in 1913. And it was taken over by the military during both world wars. Today, the airport remains in use for private aircraft and flight training, known now as Brighton City Airport.
4. Bucharest Aurel Vlaicu Airport, Romania
Aurel Vlaicu is not the main airport today in Bucharest, but a smaller one used as a business airport (although it may soon take commercial flights again). It did, though, serve as the main airport until Otopeni Airport opened in 1965.
The airport was founded in 1912 when a flight school was opened there. It was named to honor Aurel Vlaicu, a Romanian aviation pioneer who built the country’s first powered aircraft.
In 1920, CFRNA (The French – Romanian Company for Air Navigation), later to become national airline TAROM, started service at the airport. The main terminal building was added in 1952, designed as a central dome with three wings representing an aircraft propeller.
5. Bremen Airport, Germany
Bremen Airport opened in 1913. Like Hamburg, it was planned to handle airships but soon switched focus to aircraft. Civilian flights took place between periods of military use during both world wars. After the Second World War, it was controlled by the US Air Force until 1949. Lufthansa began operating from the airport in 1950 and established its main flight training school there.
6. Don Mueang Airport, Thailand
Don Mueang takes a special place amongst a list of American and European airports as the oldest continuously operating airport in Asia. It was actually the second airport opened in Thailand (the first being Sa Pathum, now a horse racecourse). The airport opened in 1914 and housed the first aircraft of the Thai Air Force.
It was occupied by the Japanese military during the Second World War and heavily bombed. The British RAF occupied it after the end of the war, until mid-1946.
Commercial services began with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines in 1924. It served as the main airport for Bangkok (known as Bangkok International Airport) until the new Suvarnabhumi airport opened in 2006. Don Mueang closed officially in September 2006 but soon re-opened in March 2007 after many airlines protested against the higher fees at Suvarnabhumi.
7. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, Netherlands
Schiphol was founded in 1916 as a military airport. Commercial flights began in 1920, with service to London (Croydon Airport at the time). It grew significantly in time for the Olympic Games, held in Amsterdam in 1928. This saw one of the largest terminal buildings yet built at an airport.
Schiphol was mostly destroyed during the Second World War but rebuilt after. Today, it is the ninth busiest airport globally for aircraft movement, by far the highest on this list.
8. Rome Ciampino Airport
Ciampino airport opened in 1916. As the first major airport in Italy, it witnessed many of the countries early aviation feats. It was from here in 1926 that Italian aviator Umberto Nobile left for the Arctic with the airship Norge. This was the first aircraft to cross the polar ice cap from Europe to America and may have been the first aircraft to reach the North Pole (although this is the subject of debate).
Ciampino served as the main airport for Rome until Leonardo da Vinci Airport opened in 1961. For many years after that, it handled private aviation and cargo but has re-emerged as a low-cost hub.
There are plenty of other old airports around the world. Feel free to share what you know about some of these in the comments.