Planes have been flying for more than a century now, becoming an essential part of our lives. With the arrival of the aircraft, airports were also developed for the first time. Initially, such facilities were simply land runways (or sometimes beaches or long strands of ground) where the first pioneers of aviation could operate flights. But what are the oldest airports that are still operational today?
10College Park Airport, United States
Opened in 1909
While some sources differ on the top ten oldest airports in the world, it is agreed that College Park Airport in the United States is the oldest airport still in operation globally. This airport, located in Maryland, was established in 1909 and refers to itself as the ‘Cradle of Aviation,’ and is a piece of aviation’s history.
College Park Airport (IATA code CGS) 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 States’ first military aviation school, which opened in 1911.
Today, it is still a gateway airport for private aviation. Unfortunately, there are no scheduled passenger services to and from CGS. 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.
9Shoreham Airport, United Kingdom
Opened in 1910
The UK’s oldest airport is at Shoreham, near Brighton. It opened in 1910, with several 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. Its IATA code is ESH, and it has no scheduled commercial passenger flights.
8Madrid-Cuatro Vientos Airport
Opened in 1911
Long before the now worldwide famous Madrid Barajas International Airport (MAD), the Spanish city had the Madrid Cuatro Vientos Airport. It was opened in 1911 and was originally a base for the Spanish Ejército del Aire.
Since the 1970s, it has been open to civil aviation and is mainly used for general and executive aviation nowadays. The Madrid Cuatro Vientos Airport does not have an IATA code and has no scheduled commercial flights as of November 2023.
7Hamburg Airport, Germany
Opened in 1911
Hamburg (HAM) is the oldest airport in Germany that is still operating. It opened in 1911 as a base for Zeppelin airships. During the First World War, the airport was taken over for military use and largely destroyed during the conflict. However, it re-emerged in 1919. After the Second World War, it was used as a staging area during the Berlin Airlift.
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. 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 at one point, though. 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. As of November 2023, Hamburg has 889 weekly flights operated by 54 carriers. Eurowings is the leading operator of the airport, with 203 weekly flights and 33,978 seats available.
6Bucharest Aurel Vlaicu Airport, Romania
Opened in 1912
Aurel Vlaicu is not the main airport today in Bucharest, but rather a smaller facility used as a business airport and only six commercial scheduled flights by two airlines (Hermes Airlines and AirConnect, flying both to Rome Fiumicino). It did, though, serve as the primary airport until Otopeni Airport opened in 1965.
This 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.
5Bremen Airport, Germany
Opened in 1913
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 primary flight training school there.
According to Cirium, it has 141 weekly flights as of November 2023. Used by 11 carriers, Lufthansa is the leading operator at Bremen, with 45 weekly flights to Frankfurt (21) and Munich (24).
4Poznan-Ławica Henryk Wieniawski Airport
Opened in 1913
This Polish airport was opened by the German government in 1913. For most of its history, it was solely used for military missions and far away from the flying public. Nonetheless, Poznan Airport (IATA code POZ) currently has 131 weekly scheduled flights, according to data from Cirium. It is served by companies such as LOT, which flies to Warsaw 20 times a week, Lufthansa Cityline, KLM Cityhopper, Ryanair, and more.
This airport is known for being often confused with the nearby Poznań–Krzesiny Airbase. The runways of both airports are at approximately the same orientation, and this has led to incidents in which commercial aircraft land in the wrong airport.
3Don Mueang Airport, Thailand
Opened in 1914
Don Mueang takes a special place amongst this list of mostly American and European airports as Asia’s oldest continuously operating airport. 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 before the British RAF occupied it after the war’s end 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.
As of November 2023, it has 1,732 weekly flights. Thai AirAsia is the leading airline operating at this airport, with 971 weekly flights. Other notable carriers serving Don Mueang (IATA code DMK) are Thai Lion Air, Nok Air, Bangkok Airways, Myanmar Airways, and more.
2Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, Netherlands
Opened in 1916
Schiphol (AMS) 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 thirteenth busiest airport globally in passenger numbers, by far the highest on this list. Schiphol is the most widely known hub of this list. The airport is home to the oldest active airline in the world, KLM.
1Rome Ciampino Airport
Opened in 1916
Ciampino Airport opened in 1916. As the first major airport in Italy, it witnessed many of the country’s early aviation feats. From here, in 1926, 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 even been the first aircraft to reach the North Pole (although this is the subject of debate).
Ciampino served as the primary 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. IATA Code CIA, this airport currently has 215 weekly flights operated mainly by Malta Air (119 weekly flights), Ryanair (61), Buzz (15), Wizz Air Malta (11), Wizz Air (seven), and Lauda Europe (two).