Airports are a hub of activity with people in constant motion, traveling to destinations around the world. Some are business travelers while hundreds of others are excitedly starting their vacations to some exotic location abroad.
Open 24/7, 365 days a year, few places are more alive than airports with baggage carousels turning, trolleys rolling, and departures and arrivals boards updating every few minutes. The lights never go out, shops have longer hours than a shopping mall, and the near-constant PA announcements advise travelers of embarking procedures.
There's something glamorous and romantic about airports, as well. Emotions run high. Happy smiles, a long-awaited hug, and tears of joy greet loved ones returning from a long trip. So, when airports are abandoned, their lost glamour, lack of emotion, and silent emptiness create a gloomy and eerie void.
Airports are abandoned for a variety of reasons. Some are victims of urban growth, financial crashes, and political turmoil. Many of these airports remain in a state of decay, for example: the Nicosia International Airport in Cyprus closed in 1977 after an invasion by Turkey, the Ellinikon International Airport in Athens, the Greek capital's main hub for 60 years but now lies in ruins, the Jaisalmer Airport in India with a capacity to handle thousands of travelers a year but has never received a single passenger, or London’s Croydon, that still has an air a fading glorious history.
Here are 28 “then and now” photographs of abandoned or recycled airports around the world.
14 Jaisalmer Airport, India
Despite being built nearly six years ago at the cost of almost $17 million, the Jaisalmer airport, in India’s northwestern Rajasthan state was designed to accommodate hundreds of thousands of travelers a year but has never received a single passenger.
Sitting behind a fence and locked gate, the terminal denies access to travelers or visitors. Waiting lounge seats are covered in a thick layer of dust, and the bare walls are covered with stains. Noisy pigeon nests in the roof and the remnants of animals are strewn at the entrance.
Adjacent to parking bays for three 180-seat planes, the terminal is beginning to show signs of decay. The abandoned airport highlights the government’s failed gamble to capitalize on a surge in air travel.
13 Nicosia International Airport, Cyprus
The Nicosia airport was used by Great Britain’s Royal Air Force in the 1930s but converted to civil use with the construction of the first terminal building in 1949. An updated terminal completed in 1968 was part of a plan to make the airport an eastern Mediterranean tourism and transport hub.
The airport had serviced nearly 80,000 passengers by 1973, but the bustling activity abruptly came to a halt. In 1974, Turkish forces invaded the island. The Nicosia International Airport was a primary target, and commercial activity ceased.
The airport is now part of a UN Protected Area. For the past 45 years, the once vibrant and state-of-the-art Nicosia International Airport has remained closed.
12 Ellinikon International Airport, Athens
Long gone are the jet-set days of the 1960s for the Ellinikon (Hellenikon) International Airport when shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis ran Olympic Airlines in extravagant style along with his partner, the glamorous opera diva Maria Callas.
For nearly sixty years, Hellenikon was Athens's only airport, but a new modern airport was built when Athens was awarded the 2004 Olympics. Located farther from the city center, the Eleftherios Venizelos airport opened on March 27th, 2001. Ironically, on the same day, an Olympic Airways flight to Thessaloniki was the last departure from the Ellinikon airport.
Today, except for an unofficial refugee camp, the site is abandoned, its once-busy terminals are littered with garbage, debris, and old boarding passes. Although several proposals for the use of the site have surfaced, disagreements have prevented approval and commitment to one plan.
11 Gaza’s Yasser Arafat International Airport
In 1998, Bill C. and his wife Hillary attended the ceremony to inaugurate the Yasser Arafat International Airport in the Palestinian territory of Gaza. Millions of dollars in grants were used to build the airport with a capacity to handle hundreds of thousands of passengers a year and several airlines including the newly formed Palestinian Airlines.
The transport hub was open for just three years before being destroyed by conflict and neglect.
Daifallah al Akhras, the chief engineer of the airport, said on a recent visit, "We built the airport to be the first symbol of sovereignty. Now you don't see anything but destruction and ruin." Today, only the concrete arrival halls remain.
10 Ciudad Real Central Airport
Located in the central region, the Ciudad Real Central (Don Quijote) airport was Spain’s first international private airport. Built during Spain’s booming economy in the early 2000s, it was projected to take the overflow from Madrid's Barajas airport, some 150 miles to the north. The 1.1-billion-euro airport was a symbol of modern Spain's affluence, designed to serve both Madrid and the coast via a state-of-the-art high-speed rail link.
Ryanair offered the first international flights starting in June of 2010. However, the opening coincided with the financial crisis that hit Spain hard, and many of the airport’s projects were left half finished. International flights ceased in November of 2010, and all flights terminated in October of 2011. Since then, the terminal is empty, and the airport has languished in the Spanish sun.
9 Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong
This Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-400 is one of the last airplanes to land at Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong, famous for having one of the most dangerous approaches in the world. A typical approach required aircraft to maneuver around buildings and land on an 11,000-foot runway surrounded on three sides by water.
In the 1980s, Kai Tak airport had reached its maximum capacity prompting the Hong Kong government to construct the new International Airport on Chek Lap Kok Island. Completed in 1998, all the airplanes, related equipment, and vehicles were transported by air, land, and sea to the new airport in one massive move.
The Hong Kong Engineering and Development Department is currently in the process converting Kai Tak into a vibrant, and people-oriented community by Victoria Harbor.
8 Berlin Tempelhof Airport
Built in the 1920s, Tempelhof first gained notoriety in the 1940s as the headquarters of WWII Germany’s civil aviation industry.
Later, in 1948 the airport gained further prominence as West Berlin’s most important link to the outside world during the Berlin Blockade, when the Soviet Union restricted the Western Allies' road, railway, and canal access to the Western-controlled sectors of Berlin.
Terminating operations in 2008, the airport was converted into a city park. The terminals, runways, and taxiways are all still intact, and the runways have been used for racing. The Berlin ePrix Formula E electric car race was held at the Tempelhof Airport Street Circuit in 2018.
7 Meigs Field, Chicago
Meigs Field in Chicago was the busiest single-strip airport in the United States during the 1950s and active for private aircraft and commuter airline aircraft through the end of the century.
It was also the site of one of the most infamous events in recent Chicago history. In 1994 Mayor Richard M. Daley announced plans to close the airport and build a park on the property but in 2001, a compromise was reached between the State of Illinois and the city to keep the airport open for another twenty-five years.
Under darkness of night on March 30th, 2003, Mayor Daley decided to take matters into his own hands, instructing city crews to render the airport inoperable by digging large X-shaped grooves into the runways. The airport is now a nature sanctuary and city park.
6 Teruel Airport, Spain
While some of Spain’s airports suffered from the country’s financial crisis during the years 2008 to 2014, the Teruel Airport prospered and did so without handling any passenger flights.
Opened in 2013, the airport required an investment of more than 40 million Euros. Designed as an industrial airport, it focuses on Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) operations, aircraft assembly and fitting-out services, aircraft painting, and storage. The airport reached close to 5500 operations in 2018, a 40% year-on-year increase. The storage capacity is more than 250 aircraft, the largest in Europe. Several airlines store planes are underutilized or too old to remain in service.
Teruel also offers pilot and fire-fighter training, has aeronautical research facilities and may conduct rocket-engine testing in the future.
5 Floyd Bennett Field, New York City
Opened in 1931, Floyd Bennet Field on Barren Island was once used as a point of departure for record-breaking flights by Howard Hughes and Amelia Earhart.
The photo above shows Howard Hughes wading through a crowd of reporters on July 14, 1938. Hughes and his four-person crew had just returned to Floyd Bennett Field in New York after circumnavigating the world, completing 14,672 miles in a record-setting three days, 19 hours, 14 minutes and 10 seconds.
Owned and occupied by the United States Navy for many years beginning in 1936, Floyd Bennet Field was deactivated in 1971 and remained vacant until 1980. The National Park Service eventually took control of the island, and it became part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.
4 Denver Stapleton International Airport
The tower at Stapleton directed air traffic for more than sixty years before the Denver International Airport replaced the airport in 1995.
When it was closed, Stapleton was one of the busiest airports in the world. However, it suffered from an abundance of problems, including runways that were too close together, making the separation between flights difficult, and noise complaints.
Stapleton’s buildings and runways have been torn down, but one prominent symbol of the old airport remains. The 12-story control tower has been converted into a Punch Bowl Social restaurant complex. The renovation combines bowling, karaoke, diner-style food, spectacular views of Denver below, and a reminder of what was once a thriving hub.
3 London Terminal Aerodrome (Croydon Airport)
The Croydon Airport was Britain’s first international airport and was host to many significant events during its long history. Built to defend London from zeppelins in 1915, it featured the first airport control tower that used radio telephony (speech transmissions) instead of Morse Code.
In 1923 senior radio officer Fred Mockford created the original distress call, "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday," selected because it could be understood by his French counterparts (most of the Croydon flights went to Paris), sounding like "M'aidez," 'help me.'
Winston Churchill took flying lessons at Croydon, and Charles Lindbergh landed there with the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927 following the first transatlantic flight. Croydon is closed to air traffic now, but many of the terminal structures remain, and the old control tower contains a visitor’s center.
2 Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, USA
The blimp hangars at the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro California are seventeen stories high, over 1,000 feet long and 300 feet wide. Built in 1942 of Oregon Douglas fir, they are among the largest freestanding wooden structures ever built. The hangars were part of the Naval Lighter-Than-Air Station Santa Ana, a base supporting the United States Navy coastal patrol activities during World War II.
MCAS Tustin was a major center for Marine Corps helicopter aviation and radar on the Pacific Coast until it was selected for closure under the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1990. However, the north hangar is still used as a storage and repair center for commercial blimps and for tests of innovative technology like that used by this Aeroscraft.
1 David Monthan Airfield, Arizona, USA
In 1919, the Tucson Chamber of Commerce built the nation's first city-owned airfield in the arid, Arizona desert. Eight years later, the airfield was moved to a new site and dedicated as Davis-Monthan Field, then the largest municipal airport in the U.S. It is now the world’s largest airplane boneyard, where the previous aircraft bodies from the US Army, Marines, Coast Guard, and the Navy, “rest in peace.”
Davis-Monthan is the ideal location for a primary storage facility. The area has low humidity in the 10%-20% range, hard alkaline soil, paltry rainfall of 11 inches annually, and high altitude of 2,550 feet. These are conditions that allow the aircraft to be naturally preserved for cannibalization or possible reuse.
Sources: dailymail, cyprusalive, desertedplaces, motorsport, chicagotribune, thetravel, thisisinsider