The Czech Republic’s current main airport, Vaclav Havel Prague, opened in 1937. It was originally known as Ruzyne Airport and was renamed Vaclav Havel only in 2012. It has been the main base of CSA Czech Airlines (originally formed as Czechoslovak Airlines) throughout and gradually expanded to meet growing capacity.
The first airport for Prague – Kbely
Vaclav Havel was not the first airport to serve Prague. Kbely Airport opened in 1918 as a military and commercial airport. It was the main base for Czechoslovak Airlines from 1923 onwards. By the early 1930s, however, there was insufficient capacity at this shared airport, and the government decided to construct a new commercial airport. Kbley is still in use today as a military airport and is also home to the Prague Aviation Museum (shown in the picture below).
Opening Ruzyne Airport in 1937
Construction of the new airport began in July 1932 and was completed in March 1937. To help with the ongoing economic challenges at the time, it was built using additional manual labor rather than machinery. It was originally known as Ruzyne Airport after the district where it is located.
The first aircraft to use the new airport was a Douglas DC-2, landing on the morning of April 5th, 1937, with a domestic flight from Brno. By 1938, there were flights to over 100 European destinations.
Military use during the Second World War
This early success and expansion were short-lived, with the outbreak of war in 1939. From March of that year, the airport was occupied by the German army, and the national airline was liquidated. Flights continued only on routes to Berlin and Vienna, operated by Deutsche Lufthansa with the Junkers Ju-52 aircraft. Throughout the war, the airport was used for maintenance and flight training.
Commercial services returned in 1945, with Aeroflot flying into the airport in August 1945. Czechoslovak Airlines returned too, first operating the Ju-53, then the DC-3. Pan American World Airways began services to New York in April 1946.
Expansion work was soon carried out too. The runways were lengthened and concreted (the original ones were grass strips), and a new one was built in 1948. Construction of a major new terminal (the North Terminal, now Terminal 1) was started in 1964.
The airport in the1960s and beyond
Expansion of the airport and service continued into the jet age and through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The opening of the new North Terminal in 1968 was a major development for the airport, and most flights moved to this new location. Construction also included a new air traffic control tower.
New hangar and maintenance facilities were also finished in the late 1960s as airport use expanded. The runways were renewed and lengthened during the 1970s.
The airport played a part in political developments too. Most notably, it was seized by Soviet paratroopers and Warsaw Pact member troops following the “Prague Spring” protests in 1968. The airport was then used as a base for progression into the city.
Throughout these years, Czechoslovakia Airways (CSA) continued to be based at the airport, operating a mixed fleet of Western and Soviet-built aircraft. This included several Tupolev and Ilyushin aircraft, including the Tupolev Tu-104, Tu-135, Tu-154, and the Ilyushin Il-62 quadjet.
There were other notable visits to the airport from the supersonic Tupolev Tu-144 in 1971 and Concorde in 1986.
The next major expansion came in 1995 with the opening of a further new terminal (now in use as Terminal 1). By this time, passenger capacity reached 4.8 million per year (according to airport data).
Prague airport in the 200s and beyond
The opening of the next new Terminal, Terminal 2, in 2006 took the airport to its current size and form. The name was changed to Vaclav Havel only in 2012 – named after the first President of the Czech Republic. One of the runways (04/22) has now been permanently closed, leaving two runways – the main 06/24 (which was fully renovated in 2012) and 12/30.
Photo: Prague Airport
In terms of future development, the main plan is for the construction of a new runway parallel to the main 06/24 runway (becoming 06L/24L). This was proposed as early as 2005, but construction is yet to begin. This is seen as necessary to meet future predicted airport use. There are also plans to expand Terminal 2 (used for Schengen flights).
Photo: Prague Airport
Do you regularly use Prague airport or know more about its long history? Would you like to share or discuss more about its history and development over more than 80 years? Feel free to do so in the comments section.