The World’s Oldest Airports

We often look at the history and development of aircraft on Simple Flying, but what about airports? With…

The World’s Oldest Airports

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.

Hamburg airport is the oldest international airport in the world. Photo: Getty Images

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 Airport
College Park Airport is still used for light aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

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.

Curtiss military aircraft
A Curtiss military aircraft being tested at College Park in 1912. Photo: US Library of Congress via Wikimedia

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.

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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 Wat and largely destroyed, but re-emerged in 1919. It was used as a staging area during the Berlin Airlift after the Second World War.

Hamburg airport 1954
A Lufthansa Convair CV-340 at Hamburg airport in 1954. Photo: Lufthansa

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.

Hamburg airport
Construction of Lufthansa facilities at Hamburg airport in 1954. Photo: Lufthansa

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!

Hummingbird aircraft
Piffard’s Hummingbird aircraft at Shoreham in 1910. Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia

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.

Shoreham airport
The art deco style main terminal was opened in 1936 for the ‘Brighton Hove and Worthing Joint Municipal Airport and remains in use today. Photo: Shoreham (Brighton City) Airport via Wikimedia

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.

Bucharest airport
Romanian leader Gheorghiu-Dej and Soviet leader Khrushchev at the airport in 1960. Photo: Romanian Communism Online Photo Collection via Wikimedia

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.

Bremen airport
Bremen airport has an enviable location close to the city. Photo: Bin im Garten via Wikimedia

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.

Thai at Don Mueang
Don Mueang was the main base for Thai Airways before it moved to Suvarnabhumi (seen here in 1999). Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia

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 in 1920s
Schiphol airport area in the 1920s. Photo: Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie via Wikimedia

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).

Norge airship
The Norge airship at Ciampino. Photo: Aeronautica Militare via Wikimedia

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.

Ciampino Airport
Ciampino Airport today. Photo: CAPTAIN RAJU via Wikimedia

There are plenty of other old airports around the world. Feel free to share what you know about some of these in the comments. 

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LATAM Agrees Boeing 787 Dreamliner Order Reduction

LATAM Airlines Group continues its fleet consolidation program and recently announced that it had canceled an order for…

LATAM Agrees Boeing 787 Dreamliner Order Reduction

LATAM Airlines Group continues its fleet consolidation program and recently announced that it had canceled an order for four Boeing 787 and one B777F aircraft. Plus, since the start of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process, LATAM has rejected the leasing contracts of up to 42 planes. Let’s investigate further.

LATAM has canceled an order for four new Boeing 787 aircraft. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

How’s LATAM’s current order with Boeing?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, LATAM had an unfilled order for seven Boeing units, according to Boeing’s order book. This order has been reduced by 72% now, following LATAM’s announcement. The airline said,

“On April 29, LATAM and Boeing came to an agreement regarding the acquisition of some B787 and B777 aircraft”.

The agreement effectively ends the order for four B787 and one B777F. Now LATAM only has an unfilled order for two B787-9 which should be delivered by December 2021, said the airline.

The Bankruptcy court still has to approve this latest agreement between Boeing and LATAM.

Additionally, LATAM has rejected the leasing contracts of all its A350s. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

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What about the A350s?

Last month, LATAM Airlines announced the immediate lease rejection of the remaining 11 Airbus A350XWB in its fleet.

The decision to reduce its long-haul fleet by rejecting the leasing contracts of the highly effective A350s was interesting, although not surprising. LATAM is looking for airplane commonality on its long-haul fleet, and the A350 was the odd man out.

The airline said,

“LATAM recently announced the retirement of the A350 aircraft, in an effort to simplify its widebody fleet, composed of the Boeing types 767, 777, and 787.”

Now, LATAM will be able to obtain better results due to having a single OEM long-haul fleet. It will reduce costs in many aspects, like maintenance.

LATAM Airbus A320 Getty
LATAM is also in a short-haul fleet renovation plan, that will last the next ten years. Photo: Getty Images

What else has LATAM done, fleet-wise?

The South American company has strongly reduced its fleet in the last year. In fact, it has rejected more leasing contracts than any other of the two Latin American carriers under Chapter 11.

On December 31, 2019, LATAM had a total fleet of 342 aircraft. Now, this has been reduced to 297, according to its latest financial report.

Looking closely, LATAM’s passenger fleet was 320 aircraft in 2019 and now is composed of 283 units. The cargo fleet is unchanged between both years, 11 Boeing 767-300F (though it may increase in the next two years).

Along its Chapter 11 process, LATAM has rejected the leasing contracts of 31 aircraft. LATAM doesn’t specify how the remaining 14 airplanes exited its fleet; they were likely sold or scrapped. Moreover, we have to clarify that LATAM is still not accounting for the exit of the A350 fleet in this tally. So, in total, LATAM has rejected the leasings for 42 planes.

Most likely than not, LATAM will continue reducing its fleet. Last week, LATAM’s CEO Roberto Alvo said that the current plan is to renovate the short-haul fleet during the next decade. The airline is currently at 25% to 30% of this phase, he added. LATAM is receiving A320neo airplanes while phasing out A320-200s and A321-200s.

A quick look at LATAM’s financial performance

During 2021’s first quarter, LATAM had an income of US$913.2 million. That’s a 61.2% decrease compared to last year due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therefore, LATAM had a net loss of US$430.9 million. The airline ended with total liquidity of US$2.6 billion in cash.

Also, LATAM recently launched its sustainability program for the next three decades. Among the objectives, LATAM aims to ditch single-use plastic by 2023 and landfill waste by 2027.

Did you expect LATAM to reduce its Boeing order? Let us know in the comments.

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