How do you bid an airport adieu? Everyone likes everything new, and when cities expand, so do their airports. If the airports can keep up with the demand or if there is enough scope to add additional runways and terminals – then they remain viable. Sometimes even if the airports cannot be modified or expanded, they are doing their job so well that they are retained, and a new airport is additionally built to manage the surplus. Sometimes though, this is not the case. As earthlings, we all know our lives are beholden to fate and the eventual passing on – and like us, everything we build also comes with a certain lifespan.
The same is with airports – when maintenance starts to rocket and the viability is over – it’s time to set up shop at another airport with better technology, management, and ease. But this is natural retirement. Sometimes airports go down as victims to conflicts or nature’s onslaught. And despite being big, expensive and all-powerful – they still end up on their knees, giving up a fight before it has begun. So these are the world’s 20 most eerily abandoned airports that have given rise to many a ghostly shudder and urban legend. Enter at your own risk, and do not enter if you are trespassing!
Abandon anything, be it metal, concrete or perhaps even titanium and slowly, nature manages to get back its own. So it seems to be the case with this airport hangar that once must have housed the fastest of all metal birds. Today, it stands derelict and in shambles, but life often bursts forth from the most barren of all places. And so the concrete flooring has been overrun with grass and weed while the glass panes, both broken and whole let sunlight and rain filter through to further the growth of this life. There is a strange irony to life, what is taken from nature is often gently reclaimed by her.
Airports are busy, people milling about and running helter-skelter to catch their birds on time. So you always an airport filled with a crowd of very purposeful people, moving in very decisive directions. And to house these people in comfortable locomotion, there is a plethora of elevators, escalators, and treadmills as well.
To see an escalator fall silent, and have one end of it brimming with discarded flight manuals is clearly an indication that this airport is far past its use.
An abandoned or a grounded airplane is a rather tragic image. But an abandoned escalator that once gave a ride to millions of footfalls is a testament to the fickleness of human nature.
Built in 1939, the Kalamaki Airfield as it was known at the time, was soon taken over by the German guard and serviced their air force until the conflict ended. From 1945 to 1993, the Greek government also let the US use this very airport as a base for air transport command between Rome, Italy and the Middle East. This arrangement lasted until 1991 and from then on, it was a purely commercial airport and came to be known as the Ellinikon International Airport – Greek’s only international airport until the last flight left in 2001. It was curtains for this old airport that had a top capacity of some 11 million but actually serviced 13 million people in its last year. Greece has a new airport now and this lies derelict and forgotten.
As beautiful as creation is, destruction also holds a rather peculiar attraction for us. Places that have been abandoned and stand testament to the time gone by are like a multi-dimensional photograph. Nothing in it moves, everything stays the same – but the experience is far more than just a peek.
The picture here is of the once-bustling Nicosia Airport in Cyprus.
After the Cyprus coup and the Turkish invasion, the UN stepped in and made a buffer zone; dividing North and South Cyprus with a thick zone that’s almost like a no man’s land save for a few villages. The airport coincidentally fell in this zone and stands derelict and abandoned, frozen in time and getting murkier by the year.
This is not an abandoned airport, rather, the main airport of the Lagos, Nigeria – the Murtala Muhammed Airport or MMA. On one side of the airside though, there are 13 aircraft lying abandoned. The airport authorities did their best and asked the respective carriers to remove the offending aircraft to no avail. Finally, the airport authorities moved the planes themselves a distance away from where they still lie abandoned to fate and nature. The airport itself is fully operational so seeing abandoned and disheveled planes lying on the side does paint an incongruous picture, to say the least. The plane carriers never responded, which is even stranger.
In 1997, the Montserrat volcanic eruption destroyed most of this Caribbean island’s capital Plymouth. Along with it, the airport went down in ashes too, covered in pyroclastic flow aka lava. In fact, in the same year, 7000 people were evacuated from Montserrat which is two-thirds of the population – some 3,000 went as refugees in the neighbouring islands of Antigua and Barbados while 4000 went to the UK. The airport, of course, lay in shambles. Until 2005, when the new airport was constructed; one could reach Montserrat only by boat or by helicopter. The tourist industry took a major hit as well and took about 15 years to recover.
The Gaza International Airport and Dahaniya International Airport was located in the Gaza Strip and opened on 24 November 1998. It cost some $86million to build and was seen as a positive step by Palestine to achieve statehood, and at the time could sustain some 700,000 passengers annually. Funding from Japan, Spain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Morocco went into it which is why there was a united furor with Israeli forces bombed it in October 2000, rendering it unusable.
In 2002, bulldozers cut the runway apart, though airport personnel still managed the ticket and the baggage counters until 2006.
The ruins are a chilling reminder of the fruits of conflict.
The Ciudad Real Central Airport was first known, rather fittingly, as the Don Quixote Airport and true to its name, it ended up being a Quixotic attempt. It was constructed at a whopping cost of some €1.1 billion and opened operations in 2009, becoming the first international private airport in Spain. The idea was to take the surplus passengers off Madrid’s main airport. Unfortunately, in 2006, Madrid airport expanded, increasing its capacity to 70 million passengers a year. The Ciudad Real Central was built to a 10 million-passenger capacity, but barely three years into its operation, the management folded it all, since they could not rope in any major airlines.
From 1925 to 1998, Kai Tak International was Hong Kong’s main airport. This changed when the new Hong Kong International Airport was built some 30 miles west to the old site. The Kai Tak airport was also notoriously unsafe for landings and takeoff on its runway track 13 because the aircraft had to make a turn of 90 or sometimes even 180 degrees to avoid falling into the waters below. The airport was picturesque in fact, surrounded by mountains and buildings and basically literally being on the beach – but its replacement made all the pilots heave a sigh of relief.
Coming back to Spain and its Ciudad Real Central Airport, the latest news is that it is up for sale with no reserve price. This basically means, if you have a solid investor-backed plan, you could buy this airport for the price of a packet of crisps, or a juice box! When the airport finally closed shop in 2011, barely three years after it opened shop – the parent company declared itself done and washed its hands off the whole affair.
A judge ruled the airport be sold off at an asking price of €100million.
One UK-based company did offer some €28million but the deal fell through. Now, the reserve price is a big fat zero!
With Greece getting a new airport, the once-bustling Ellinikon International Airport lies desolately silent on one end of Athens. The aura is that of wretchedness and loneliness – the once busy counters and checks lay in shambles, glass and dust strewing the floors. The tarmac too is populated with weeds, and there stands a single Boeing 747 – one metal bird that made innumerable trips to and fro from the very runway that it’s grounded at. It’s an Olympic Airline jet, left when the airport shut shop in 2001. Since then, this derelict airport has become a purgatory for refugees waiting to cross the Macedonian border. Greece has now become a warehouse of lost souls, and the Ellinikon’s airport desolate emptiness is now filled with budding hope that often crumbles into despair when the sun sets.
Even when airports are abandoned, the maintenance can never really stop until another project crops up. And with maintenance, we do not mean that building needs to be cleaned or ticket counters need to be manned. We mean that if a pilot sees a runway, it should be made clear to him upon first glance that this isn’t an operational runway and he cannot land here. And this is done by painting big and brash yellow crosses on the runway – thus the terminology Runway X. Until the airport land itself is reconstructed into another project and the runway stops looking like a runway – the yellow cross maintenance is a security and safety must.
Just South of Berlin, in the city of Rangsdorf in Brandenburg lies the abandoned airport which came to be known as the Rangsdorf Soviet Airport.
It opened in 1936, on the eve of the Olympic Games in Berlin, but stood testament to a whole series of rather historic events thereafter.
It was initially only a sporting airport but soon began to handle all International flights. During the 40s, it became a base. In 1944, the much famed Claus von Stauffenberg took off from here to complete his plot to take out the leader of Germany, which failed and led to his being shot. Later, in 1945, this airport was taken over by the Soviets and they left in 1994. Since then, its stands abandoned.
To me, this shot looks eerily like the mass suicide charge of people they show in the Hunger Games, where the people rebel and take down the dam – altruism before self-centeredness. And in the background is JLaw’s husky voice crooning the 'Hanging Tree' song. Shivers. This is, of course, is no dam but the abandoned runway at the erstwhile West Berlin’s Tempelhof airport. A part of the airport that closed down amidst controversy was turned into a park and recreational area and people come here to enjoy their morning constitutional as well as picnics. As of 2015, a part of this airport has also been converted as a refugee center for 1,200 refugees who are free to come and go from the main terminal.
The Ugolny Airport is a mixed-use civilian and military aerodrome that is conveniently situated on the Gulf of Anadyr in the coldest part of the Russian Far East. In summer, you get to this aerodrome by boat, in winters by a road on ice and in spring, its reachable only by helicopter. Once, its remote location made it a strategic part of conflict as a staging post for the Soviet Unions’ fear-instilling fleet which included Tupolev Tu-95 Bears and supersonic Tu-22M Backfires. Some of these dreaded metal birds that could and did breathe fire lie abandoned and desolate on the airfields, no longer the high flyers they once were. The Ugolny Airport itself if not busting oasis, flights are few and far between and mostly come here for emergency landings.
A rather “secret” base in the times secrets still existed, the Johnston Atoll airport was used not only to test nuclear devices but was also a place to store chemical arms such as the notorious Agent Orange.
Nuclear contaminations, hazardous chemical spills, and other such incidents rendered life in this military airfield next to impossible.
Originally the Johnson Atoll was just 23 hectares big, but with coral reefing and reclaiming, the US built it up to 267 hectares, much of which is now sinking back into the sea ever since its abandonment. It has now been declared a wildlife refuge and unless you have the authorization to come here, it’s not open to the public.
The picture is not from a real life shot, but from a film. But the story is all too real when the filmmaker's father was stuck at the then-operational Ellinikon International Airport for nine days upon losing his passport. Called Tripoli Cancelled, the movie follows the daily rituals of a man stranded at an abandoned airport – and has been shot at the now abandoned Ellinikon Airport itself. The man is shown trying to keep busy – walking, smoking and writing letters to his wife. In melancholic despair, he stages scenes with mannequins dressed as flight attendants and is shown sitting on the eerie runway reading the dark children’s book, "Watership Down".
The Berlin wall ended years of bitter divide and when the last stone and brick fell, both sides resounded with cheers. One victim to this was the Tempelhof Airport, West Berlin’s lifeline to the world. While a few leaders and some of the populace did want the airport to stay for ease of travel as well as nostalgia, the public seemed united in wanting only one airport. In accordance, Templehof was retired. It was turned into a public park and since then people have been using the once famous runways as a track for walks, and the grassy knolls as picnic spots. There was the talk of redevelopment of this property but the merry picnicking people are having none of that.
There’s nothing more evocative of an airport having long been forgotten than a crumbling sign missing a few letters and looking like the abode of trapped souls and ghosts. What could have happened here, one wonders when looking at the photograph? Was there human strife that destroyed it? Or was an immovable force of nature that ravaged everything that lay in its path. Or was it just years of gradual abandonment that brought this once mighty building to its knees?
Thousands if not millions must have passed through its vaunted gates, flying in giant metallic birds for business or pleasure.
And now everything is eerily still and desolately silent – a testament to the fact that nothing lasts forever…
Sources: TheAtlantic.com, AbandonedBerlin.com, TeleGraph.co.uk