Prague airport looks back on massive transformation over 80 years

Václav Havel Airport Prague, photo: Ondřej Tomšů

Prague airport this week celebrates 80 years of its existence. The Václav Havel Airport in Prague, formerly called Ruzyně, started operation this week in 1937. While in the first year, the airport carried around 13,000 passengers, today the figure is one thousand times higher.

Václav Havel Airport Prague, photo: Ondřej Tomšů
The construction of the new airport was initiated at the end of 1920s, when the capacity of the existing international airport at Kbely ceased to be sufficient. When the airport in Prague officially launched its services on April 5, 1937, it was one of the most modern facilities of its kind in Europe. It featured two grass runways and state-of-the-art technical equipment and departure hall.

The first aircraft to land here was a Douglas DC-2, says the airport’s spokeswoman Marika Janoušková:

“The first aircraft, which had a capacity of 14 passengers, landed at the airport at nine o’clock in the morning and it was a domestic flight from Piešťany via Zlín and Brno to Prague. That year, the first historical terminal was put into operation. It is still used today, but only for domestic flights.”

Marika Janoušková, photo: Ondřej Tomšů
Over the 80 years of its existence, the historic Prague airport has changed beyond recognition. One of the most significant changes took place in 1968, when a new airport was built north of the original one, increasing the passenger capacity to 2.3 million passengers a year. Another major enlargement took place in the early 1990s in time for other changes.

“The ratio of domestic and international flights has also changed significantly. In 1938 there were 24 routes, fifty percent of them domestic and 50 international. Today over 99.9 percent of routes are international. The first transatlantic line was introduced in 1962 and it was a flight to Havana. Today, there are 11 carriers operating transatlantic lines.”

In the first year of operation in 1937, the airport handled some 13,000 passengers, while today the figure stands at 13 million a year. The number of employees rose from the original 400 to around 15,000. To keep up with rival airports elsewhere in Europe, the airport plans to invest 15 billion crowns by 2035. Marika Janoušková again:

Václav Havel Airport Prague, photo: Ondřej Tomšů
“Air transport has been developing really fast all over the world. Just in the past two years we recorded an increase in passenger numbers by one million each year, which is why we are already thinking about future development. If the passenger number increases by say another 5.0 million, it will require an increase of capacity in all our services.”

One of the burning issues that remains to be solved in the future is the link between the airport and the city centre. At the moment, there is still no train or underground link and passengers are required to use buses or pay for a taxi.

On the occasion of the anniversary, the Václav Havel Airport is preparing a number of special events, including a special flight on the route of the first flight that landed at the airport 80 years ago.