Five Ghost and Closed Airports

Lorenzo Schaaf

A Pan Am Boeing 747-100 landing at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport, one of our five featured ghost or closed airports.

Airports are busy places by definition, people milling about, travelling to destinations around the world. But what about the ones that are closed, or haven’t been used? Today, we travel to five different airports around the world that are either closed or defined as “ghost” airports.

Berlin Tempelhof Airport

A Pan Am Douglas DC-4 at the airport in 1954. Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons / German Federal Archives

October 30th, 2008 was the date that one of Germany’s most iconic airports closed. Its name was Tempelhof, taken from the neighborhood surrounding the airport in Berlin. The airport was first built in the late 1920s, and became famous in the 1940s as a Nazi parade ground and the center of Nazi Germany’s civil aviation industry. The airport gained prominence as West Berlin’s most important link to the outside world during the Berlin Blockade, as the main airport that facilitated supply deliveries to the city for over nine months while rail and road links to West Germany were severed. However, starting in the 1960s, the airport began to lose prominence as larger jet aircraft started operating to the city’s Tegel Airport (which still operates today), as the runways at Tempelhof were not long enough.

The airport ended operations in 2008, and was turned into a city park in 2010. The runways, taxiways and terminals are all still intact, and the terminal is used as a shelter for 1,200 refugees as of 2014. In addition, about 80% of the airfield has been turned into a nature preserve. Overall, the airport’s modern use has benefitted the people of Berlin greatly, and with a world-class airport being built (albeit quite delayed) for the city, Berlin will hopefully rise again as a world-class city for aviation.

Teruel Airport

A lineup of planes at Teruel Airport, 2016. Photo Credits: Twitter / Teruel Airport

Located in the East of Spain, Teruel’s airport has a 9,268ft (2824m) long runway capable of receiving planes as big as a Boeing 747. The airport was opened in February 2013. However, the airport isn’t used for passenger operations — it’s used purely as an aircraft storage facility, and the quietness and abandoned feeling that the airfield has can be described as “creepy”. Many airlines send planes that are too old or aren’t utilized enough to Teruel. Transaero, the Russian airline that went bankrupt in 2015, ferried many of its aircraft to Teruel before their demise, including six out of nine of their Boeing 747s and almost half of their Boeing 737s, as to not be impounded by the Russian authorities.

While it’s sad to see aircraft sitting here, it’s a great opportunity for photographers and spotters to take photos of old, unseen planes. According to recent reports, the airport hosts a number of different aircraft from around Europe and Asia, including a number of Boeing 747s that airlines such as EVA Air and KLM are retiring to Teruel.

Ciudad Real Central Airport

The airport as seen from takeoff. Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons / Africa Twin

Also known as Aeropuerto Don Quijote and located in central Spain, it has a 13,450ft (4,100m) long runway, and was the first international private airport to be built in Spain, costing 1.1 billion euros. The airport was to be connected to the high speed AVE rail network, and become an international airport to rival Madrid-Barajas due to the ease of connecting to cities along the Madrid-Seville line. Operations at the airport began in 2009, and in June of 2010, international flights began, operated by Ryanair. At its peak, the airline offered service on Ryanair, Vueling, Air Berlin and the Spanish regional carrier Air Nostrum, however, international flights ceased in November of 2010, and all flights ceased in October of 2011, when Vueling left the airport. Since then, the airport has languished in the Spanish sun.

Since then, the airport has been used as a location to shoot TV shows and commercials for series such as Top Gear. The airport opened right as the financial crisis in Spain hit hard in the area and many of the airport’s projects were left half finished, not allowing the airport to gain crucial licenses it needed to operate. However, the airport was just bought by a private company, and hopes are that the airport will re-open sometime in 2018.

Kai Tak Airport

A Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-400 landing at Kai Tak on one of the last days of operation. Photo Credits: Hong Kong Free Press

Perhaps the most famous on this list, this airport had one of the most dangerous approaches in the world. You had to snake around buildings to land on a 11,000 foot runway surrounded on three sides by water. Have you guessed it by now? It’s Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport. The now-closed airport started as a grass strip for British RAF aircraft in the 1920s. By 1936, the first airline in Hong Kong was established, had its first commercial flight, and the airport had a concrete runway. The airport expanded during World War II under Japanese rule, with POWs being forced to construct runways and expand the airport. From then until the 1970s, the airport’s main runway 13/31 was extended from around 5,000ft to its 11,000ft final length using land reclamation techniques, one of the largest projects in Hong Kong around this time.

A United Airlines Boeing 747-400 making the harrowing last turn before lining up with the runway at Kai Tak. Photo Credits: Samuel Lo / airliners.net

In the 1980s, the airport was operating beyond its capacity, and the Hong Kong government began to build today’s Hong Kong International Airport on Chek Lap Kok Island. The airport was completed in 1998, and in one massive move, all the airplanes, airport supplies and vehicles were transported by air, land and sea to the new airport. Cathay Pacific flight CX251 to London Heathrow was the last commercial flight to depart, operated by a Boeing 747-400, and CX3340 was the last flight to depart to the new Hong Kong International Airport, departing at 1:05am on July 6th, 1998, also the first day of Chek Lap Kok’s operations.

Meigs Field

Similar to Kai Tak, except smaller and safer, was Meigs Field in Chicago. The airport was located near the Museum Campus in downtown Chicago, and was the busiest single-strip airport in the United States during the 1950s. The runway was 3,900 feet long, and served as an airport for private aircraft and commuter airline aircraft. From the 1960s throughout the century, airlines operated service to downstate cities in Illinois and to nearby destinations in Indiana and Michigan. The airport was not only important for commercial operations, but also as a facility for organ transports to downtown hospitals.

The runway in April of 2003, with the X-shaped cuts in the runway still visible. Photo Credits: Chicago Sun-Times

In 1994, Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago announced plans to close the airport and build a park in its place, but in 2001, a compromise was reached between the city, the State of Illinois and others to keep the airport open for another twenty-five years. However, the federal legislation attached to this deal never passed Congress. On the night of March 30th, 2003, Mayor Daley instructed city crews to destroy the runway by bulldozing large X-shaped grooves into the runway service, effectively ending the airport’s operations. Nowadays, similar to Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, the airport has been converted into a city park and nature sanctuary.

Featured image by Ralf Manteufel via Wikimedia Commons