End of the line: Exploring Abandoned airports around the world

Airports are some of the busiest places on earth, but what happens when they close for business? From airports in close proximity to warzones to those that simply went bust, Adele Berti takes a look at the most curious abandoned hubs around the world.

The aviation sector is facing increasing pressure to clean up its act when it comes to climate change, but gas-guzzling airplanes aren’t the only culprits. As airports expand, so too does their carbon footprint, with more energy required to power new terminals, ground transport vehicles and the creation of infrastructure. Building capacity for additional aircraft can also create a backlash amongst environmentalists – see, for example, the frenzy over a potential third runway at the UK’s Heathrow Airport.

Many airports across the world have therefore adopted greener elements into their designs and operation strategies, as well as subscribed to eco-friendly initiatives. The Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, run by Airports Council International (ACI), is helping more than 200 airports to manage their emissions, with the ultimate goal of carbon neutrality. 

Through sustainable practices and the use of renewable fuel sources, we take a closer look at the airports setting an example for other aviation hubs to follow.

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Johnston Atoll Airport, US

Located on an atoll in the Pacific Ocean south of Hawaii, Johnston Atoll Airport was used as a US military headquarter until 2005 and has since been left in complete decay.

A strategic hub during the Second World War, by 1944 it was one of the busiest air transport terminals in the Pacific. It was later bombed by Japanese submarines.

While in service, the airport was home to some 400 men and featured an underground hospital. Despite its current derelict state, it is still considered as a preferable landing location in times of emergency over the more dangerous water landing.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Floyd Bennett Field, New York

In the 1930s, Floyd Bennett Field was New York’s first ever municipal airport, strategically located on Barren Island and within reasonable distance from Manhattan.

During its early days, the airport became renowned for witnessing the exploits of Amelia Earhart and hosting spectacular races but was later turned into a naval air station.

It was eventually shut down in the 1970s in favour of New Jersey’s Newark Airport. However, contrary to many other closed airports, it was not entirely abandoned.

Since 1972, it has been put under the management of the National Park Service and has hosted cycle races, as well as meetings organised by the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York.

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Image courtesy of Flickr / H.L.I.T

Croydon Airport, London

It may no longer be in use, but London’s Croydon Airport is still remembered and celebrated for pioneering new technologies in the early days of aviation and for playing a crucial role during the Second World War.

Once London’s most important hub and Britain’s first international airport, it was in operation between 1920 and 1959.

During its remarkable life, the airport was the first in the world to introduce an air traffic control tower as well as the concept of airport terminals.

Over the years, it hosted illustrious personalities like Winston Churchill and Charles Lindbergh and survived copious bombing during WWII.

It has now been partially turned into a museum and a hotel, though the former control tower and terminal building can still be seen.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / Christopher Hilton

Berlin Tempelhof Airport, Germany

Inactive since 2008, Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport was the world’s largest building until the construction of the Pentagon.

Lying on grounds previously belonging to the Knights Templar, Tempelhof was inaugurated in the 1920s and served as a key Nazi military base during the Second World War.

It was also a vital drop-off point in West Berlin in 1948-1949, when the US took over the airport to bring supplies to locals in the Berlin Airlift.

Emblematic Nazi architecture and design are predominant in the airport’s indoor areas, which have remained in good state after operations ceased in 2008.
This was made possible by Berliners, who now use it as a public park in the city and to host a range of activities including festivals and fashion shows.

Image courtesy of Flickr / K.H.Reichert

Ellinikon International Airport, Athens

Formerly known as Kalamaki Airfield, Athens’ Ellinikon International Airport was built in 1939 and soon became a Nazi base until 1945.

At the end of the war, it was then deployed by the US for air transport command between Italy and the Middle East until the early 1990s, when it became a commercial airport and was renamed Ellinikon.

Up until its closure in 2001, it was Greece’s only international airport, with a maximum capacity of 11 million passengers.

It was then replaced by the new Athens International Airport in anticipation of the 2004 Olympics.

During the Games, Ellinikon’s runway was turned into a venue for a range of sports including hockey and baseball, while its hangars hosted fencing and basketball competitions.

Despite the city’s initial plans to turn it into a park, it was instead abandoned to its own fate as the financial crisis took over Greece.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Nicosia International Airport, Cyprus

Once a key driver of tourism and economic growth for the island of Cyprus, Nicosia International Airport is now a mausoleum of abandoned chairs, rusty aircraft and broken glass.

Located in the centre of the island, this derelict airport is a testament to the political divisions currently hitting the former British colony of Cyprus.

Having become independent in 1960, it was invaded by Turkish troops in 1974; the move effectively split locals between Turkish Cypriots, based in the north of the island, and Greek Cypriots in the south.

Since then, separate airports have been built at the two ends of the island, leaving Nicosia Airport to rot in no-man’s land.

Over the past few years, however, the hub has been included in the buffer zone and used by the United Nations to hold intercommunal talks between the opposing communities.

As discrepancies continue, not much is left of its 1970s style; its German-designed terminal now looks derelict, while shops and restaurants serve as home to birds and insects.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / Dickelbers

Yasser Arafat International Airport, Gaza

Inaugurated in 1998 by US President Bill Clinton and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Gaza’s International Airport was meant to become an emblem of Palestine’s independence but instead lived, a rather short life.

Now, a golden dome and white columns are the only survivors of the airport, which was designed to serve 700,000 passengers per year and allowed for the birth of local airline Palestinian Airways.

While the airline exists – though only on paper, since it has a fleet of zero aircraft – Yasser Arafat International has paid a high price for the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

In 2001, Israeli forces air-bombed its controlled tower and radar station and bulldozed the runway, making it effectively inoperative from early 2002. It now sits in a desert land at the border with Egypt.

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Kai Tak Hong Kong International Airport

Having been built in close proximity to one of Hong Kong’s busiest residential areas, Kai Tak airport was one of the most dangerous airports in the world.

Landing at the airport implied flying low over the island’s buildings, as well as enacting a series of complicated manoeuvres amid Hong Kong’s frequently windy weather and surrounding mountains.

Concerns about noise pollution and lack of privacy for locals added to the airport’s miseries.

Unsurprisingly, these issues and a series of accidents that saw a plane ending up in the harbour led to Kai Tak’s closure in 1998, 73 years after its opening.

Since then, it took the city 15 years and countless proposals to eventually decide to turn it into a cruise terminal and a new residential area.

Image courtesy of John H. Gámez


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