Nicosia International Airport is a largely disused airport located 8.2 km west of the Cypriot capital city of Nicosia in the Lakatamia suburb. It was originally the main airport for the island, but commercial activity ceased following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The airport site is now mainly used as the headquarters of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.
Nicosia was the principal airport for Cyprus from its initial construction in the 1930s as Royal Air Force station RAF Nicosia until 1974. At first it acted principally as a military airport and it is still owned by the British Ministry of Defence.
The landing strip was constructed in 1939 by the Shell Company and Pierides & Michaelides Ltd. Services were provided by Misrair with four-engined DH.86 aircraft.
During the Second World War the airport's facilities and runway were extended by local contractors Stelios Joannou and George Paraskevaides. American bombers used the runway in 1943–44 when returning from the allied bombings of the Romanian Ploieşti oil fields.
After the war commercial services were reintroduced, and by 1948 Misrair, BOAC, Cyprus Airways and MEA were providing regular services.
The facilities provided were limited, with three Nissen huts used as a terminal building housing Customs, Immigration, Civil Aviation, Signals, Traffic and Operational Services. Restaurant services were provided by the NAAFI.
In 1949 the first terminal building was designed and built by the Public Works Department at a cost of £50,000 and was opened in May of that year. The building was then extended together with the aircraft apron in 1959. The building was vacated in 1968 with the opening of the new terminal. The Nicosia Flying Club and other flying organisations continued to use the old building.
The new terminal could accommodate 800 passengers at one time and the parking apron 11 aircraft.
In June 1974 plans were in place for the terminal to be extended and the apron to be enlarged to 16 aircraft of which 2 places were to be for widebodied aircraft. But this was never to happen: on 15 July 1974 right wing Greek nationalists overthrew the democratically elected president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios. Nicosia Airport was briefly closed by the coupists, then used on 17 July 1974 to ferry troops from Greece to Cyprus to support the coup against Makarios. Only on the 18 July was it allowed to reopen to civilian traffic, becoming a site of chaotic scenes as holidaymakers and other foreign nationals tried to leave the island. Finally, on 20 July 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus, bombing the airport heavily and forcing its permanent closure.
The leaders of the Greek Cypriot Community and Turkish Cypriot Community discussed reopening Nicosia International Airport at the beginning of 1975. After the leader of the Greek Cypriot community, Archbishop Makarios, had initially rejected the Turkish Cypriot proposal to reopen the airport to international traffic under joint control, agreement to reopen it was 'in principle' reached during the negotiations in Vienna from 28 April to 3 May 1975. However, discussions by a joint committee set up for that purpose were unproductive.
The last commercial airline flights out of Nicosia Airport took place in 1977 under UN Special Authorisation, when three of the remaining Cyprus Airways aircraft stranded there since the 1974 invasion were retrieved by British Airways engineers and flown to London. One of these, a Trident 2 is now on show at the Imperial War Museum Duxford.
Following the closure of Nicosia Airport a new airport, Larnaca International Airport (LCA), was opened in the Republic of Cyprus in 1975, and in Northern Cyprus the Ercan International Airport (ECN) was opened in 2004, both on former RAF airfields. Paphos International Airport (PFO) was also opened in the Republic of Cyprus in 1983.
There have been some plans for Nicosia Airport to be reopened under United Nations (UN) control as a goodwill measure, but so far neither the Greek nor the Turkish Cypriots have seriously pursued this option.
In 2013 Dr Michael Paraskos of the Cornaro Institute in Cyprus argued that with three other functioning airports in Cyprus the old Nicosia Airport would no longer be needed even in the event of a political settlement on the island. Instead he suggested it should be turned into a tax-free industrial zone, designed to attract foreign high tech firms, and employing Cypriots from both the Greek and Turkish communities on the island.
Incidents and accidents:
- On 3 March 1956 a Handley Page Hermes (a Hermes IV, G-ALDW, operated by Skyways Limited) was destroyed on the ground by a time-bomb in the forward freight compartment. The explosion occurred 20 minutes before the aircraft was due to depart for the United Kingdom with 68 passengers. There were no fatalities.
- On 27 April 1956 an RAF Douglas Dakota was destroyed on the ground by a bomb thought to have been placed by EOKA fighters.
- On 20 April 1967 a Bristol Britannia, HB-ITB, operating a charter flight bringing tourists from Bangkok, Thailand to Basel in Switzerland, crashed on approach to the airport in bad weather. 126 were killed but two German and two Swiss passengers survived; three of them were seriously injured and were treated at a United Nations field hospital near Nicosia, the fourth was reported to be unhurt.
- On 29 January 1973 an EgyptAir Ilyushin Il-18 aircraft, SU-AOV, crashed into the Kyrenia Mountain range near the village of Karavas at an altitude of 783m (117m below the crest) while on downwind on a nighttime approach to Nicosia runway 14 from Cairo. All 37 aboard (7 crew and 30 passengers) killed.
- On August 29, 1973, a Czechoslovak Airlines Tupolev Tu-104, OK-MDE, operating flight CSA531 from Damascus overran the runway and veered to the right, 150 m short of the runway end. Thank God no fatalities were reported among the 70 passengers and crewupon landing. The aircraft was due to fly onwards to Prague from Nicosia. No fatalities were reported among the 70 passengers and crew. OK-DME is still located north of the airfield.
- On 20 July 1974, two empty Cyprus Airways airliners (a Hawker-Siddeley HS121 Trident 1E (5B-DAE), and a Trident 2E (5B-DAB)) were destroyed on the ground by the Turkish Air Force during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. 5B-DAB can still be seen on the northern apron! (35°09`42 N, 33°16`24 E)
- On 22 July 1974, 33 people were killed when 20 ageing Nord Noratlas and 10 C-47 Skytrains, of the 354 Transport Squadron "Pegasus", were assigned to transport a Greek commando force to protect the airport from invading Turks. This operation was named Operation NIKI.