Prague airport today celebrates 84 years of its existence. The Václav Havel Airport in Prague, formerly called Ruzyně, started operation this week in 1937.
Beginnings of the airport: 1932−1937
The history of the airport dates back to 1929, when the proposal of the then Czechoslovak government on the construction of a new airport was adopted. The construction of the airport started in July 1932 with minimal use of machines so that the construction could help to reduce unemployment during the crisis.
The construction was completed on 1 March 1937 and the airport was immediately described by foreign experts as one of the largest in Europe. Its modern and timeless terminal became a model for many other new airports across Europe.
The first aircraft landed at the new airport on 5 April 1937 at 9 a.m. It was a Douglas DC-2 travelling on the Piešťany – Zlín – Brno – Prague route. This landing was the official start of operations of the brand-new airport Prague-Ruzyně.
The first international aeroplane on the Vienna – Prague – Berlin route landed in Prague one hour later.
The war years: 1940–1945
During the occupation and World War 2, the airport was operated by the military Fliegerhorst. The Nazis cancelled all Czechoslovak air transport, took over the aircraft, and used them predominantly for the purposes of the army. The only regular flight continued, namely Berlin – Prague – Vienna, which flew once a day, provided by Deutsche Lufthansa with Junker Ju 52 aircraft.
The Nazi army used the airport’s hangars to repair military aircraft. The airport was also a base for a flying training school where bomber pilots were trained. The construction of the runway system also continued during the war, so in 1945 the airport had four runways, from 950 m to 1,800 m in length.
Thanks to the uprising in May, the airport runways remained almost undamaged and could thus be used immediately.
Post-war period: 1946–1959
After the liberation of Czechoslovakia in 1945, civil air traffic was quickly restarted. Furthermore, a proposal on the construction of a new runway and further development of the airport was approved in 1946.
The airport was gradually modernized, the runways were lengthened, and a system of taxiways and a light signal system for night operation were added.
Era of “normalisation”: 1960–1989
In 1960, the government decided that a new terminal should be built north of the existing one – it was therefore called North (nowadays Terminal 1). The construction itself started four years later and the new terminal with a capacity of up to 2.3 million passengers per year was ceremonially opened in June 1968.
In the 1980s, domestic flights were reduced substantially, on one hand, because of the opening of the Prague–Brno–Bratislava highway and, on the other hand, due to the cancellation of short-distance domestic flights to save fuel.
In 1986, the reconstruction of the original terminal from 1937 was completed, respecting its functionalist architecture. At present, the old building, nowadays called Terminal T4, is used mainly for VIP flights and government visitors.
The turn of the century: 1990–2011
The foundation stone of a new terminal and car park was laid in June 1995. The terminal itself was opened in June 1997, with a capacity of 4.8 million passengers per year, and the South Terminal (nowadays Terminal T3), which is used for private flights in particular, dates back to the same year.
While in 1995 the airport attended to more than three million passengers, in 2001 this number doubled, i.e. more than six million passengers passed through the airport.
In 2002 Parking C was opened, the largest multi-storey car park in Central Europe. In 2005, the number of passengers even exceeded 10 million.
In September 2005, the public part of the North 2 terminal (now Terminal 2) was officially opened and started to be used for flights within the Schengen area. After its full completion in January 2006, passengers could use 27 boarding bridges and the passenger capacity grew by approximately 30%.
In 2012, the name of Prague Airport was changed to Václav Havel Airport Prague. This happened on 5 October 2012, the anniversary of the day the former president of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel, was born.
Furthermore, the airport improved and simplified its parking system in 2015 and began to use the umbrella brand Aeroparking.