On this day in 1937: The first flight landed at the Prague airport

Václav Havel Airport Prague's history began 85 years ago with a 14-passenger plane landing on its grass runway.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 05.04.2022 10:24:00 (updated on 05.04.2022) Reading time: 4 minutes

Václav Havel Airport Prague is celebrating its 85th birthday with a special program for the public. The airport's rich history, which includes hundreds of thousands of landings, tens of millions of handled passengers, and many historical twists and turns, will be highlighted through an interactive exhibition and airport tours. An anniversary website has been launched with an interactive timeline of the airport's past, present, and future.

“The 85th-anniversary celebration will be subdued partly due to the pandemic and events in Ukraine. We have planned several events for the public and designed special free-of-charge individual tours of the airport facilities," Jiří Pos, chairman of the board of directors of Prague Airport, said.

The initial tours filled up quickly but additional tours have been added and can be booked online.

The airport has opened an interactive exhibition for the public in Terminal 2. It will show the historical development of the airport with a view to the future, and a new short film about the airport. There will also be a photo corner and a display of historical and contemporary uniforms, and interactive games for children. A mobile game, originally made for the 80 anniversary of the airport has been reissued.

First flights were in 1937

The first plane landed at what was called Prague-Ruzyně Airport on April 5, 1937. The domestic flight from Piešťany, Slovakia, had stops in Zlín and Brno before reaching Prague. The Douglas DC-2, with a capacity of 14 passengers, landed at 9 a.m. An hour later, the first international flight landed, coming from Vienna and then taking off for Berlin.


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Construction ended on March 1, 1937, but it would be another month before flights would start. The airport won a gold medal for its terminal building at the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology in Paris in 1937. The hall, designed by architect Adolf Benš, became a model for airport terminals throughout Europe. It is now known as Terminal 4, and it handles VIP flights and state visits.

The airport originally had three unpaved grass runways. In the first year of operation, 13,462 passengers passed through the airport. In 2019, the last year before the pandemic led to a big drop in passengers, over 17.8 million passengers were handled at the airport.

Its initial phase as a civilian airport was short-lived. During World War II it was taken over by the German military and used as an aviation school to train bombers. The hangars were used for airplane repairs. There was only one civilian flight per day, on the Vienna–Prague–Berlin route.

Control tower at Vaclav Havel Airport in Prague via iStock / Ceri Breeze
Control tower at Václav Havel Airport in Prague. Photo: iStock / Ceri Breeze.

Runway construction continued, and there were four concrete runways by 1945, with lengths from 950 to 1,800 meters. The airport was undamaged by the war, and could go back into civilian service immediately after the war's end.

Modern era began in the 1950s

A plan to modernize the airport was proposed in the 1950s. The construction on a modern runway was finished during the 1960s, and the main airport runway then had a length of 3,115 meters.

Two runways are currently used: The main runway was lengthened in 1982 to 3,715 meters and there is a secondary runway measuring 3,259 meters. A third runway is only used for taxiing and parking, as it no longer is suitable for takeoffs and landings of modern jets. There are long-term plans to build another runway to increase capacity, but so far this has not happened.

One of the most significant events in the airport's history was its seizure by Soviet paratroopers on the night of Aug. 20–21, 1968. The airport was used as a transit point for Soviet troops and equipment for the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Countless historical figures and celebrities have passed through the airport. General Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the airfield in 1945. A 1969 newsreel, with Czech narration, shows British author Graham Greene arriving.

During its history, the airport saw two serious accidents, in 1973 and '75. On March 29, 1989, two teens hijacked a flight from the airport to Frankfurt, West Germany, where they surrendered. They were given two-year suspended sentences.

The airport has also appeared on the silver screen. It stood in for Miami International Airport in the 2006 James Bond film "Casino Royale."

In the long term, Terminal 3, which is used for private flights, will be renovated to use solar power. A long-planned parallel runway could be in operation by 2027. The runway will increase the number of flights that can be handled at peak hours. A planned rail link between the airport and Masarykovo nádraží in Prague’s city center should reduce the commute time to 25 minutes.

In the days immediately following former president Václav Havel's death on Dec. 18, 2011, an online petition organized by Slovak film director Fero Fenič asked the government and the Parliament to rename Prague Ruzyně Airport to Václav Havel International Airport. The name change took place Oct. 5, 2012, on what would have been Havel's 76th birthday.

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