Skopje Airport – One century of aviation history

Modern historySkopje Airport - One century of aviation history

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The first Skopje Airport was built from 1922 and opened a little later, it was located where the “Aerodrom” district of the Macedonian capital is today. The name of the district is of course derived from the airport that was once located there.

The first commercial flights to and from Skopje were not introduced until 1929, when the Yugoslav airline Aeroput introduced a route that connected the city on the Vardar river with Belgrade. Before that, the airport only served as a military airfield.

A year later the route was extended to Thessaloniki, and in 1933 to the Greek capital Athens. In 1935, Aeroput connected Skopje with Bitola and Niš and also operated a longer international route between Vienna and Thessaloniki via Zagreb, Belgrade and Skopje.

Skopje Airport 3 Kilometers from the city center

The first airport in Skopje was located where the Aerordrom district is today. A new park, which opened for public use in 2011, even has a plane as a monument, and as a memory aid at the same time. Because many younger people don’t even know that the first airport was located there, where the two-time handball Champions League winner RK Vardar Skopje now plays his home games in his nearby arena “Jane Sandanski”.

The construction of the first airfield, which was simply called “Aerodrom Skopje”, began in 1922 and served first as a military airport. The mayor of Skopje, a Serb by the name of Antonio Vildovic, was an “aviation nerd”, which benefited the city. At that time, Skopje and the so called Vardar area of Macedonia were occupied by the Serbs.

In 1925 Antonio Vildovic bought a French “Caudron” aircraft, which was the first civil (sport) aircraft to be listed in what was then the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Thus Skopje was the home airport of the first civil aircraft in the kingdom of that time.

In order to arouse the attention and interest of the population for military and civil aviation, the association or aero club “Our Wings” (Nashi Krilja) was founded in Skopje. The board of directors of the Aeroclub organized aero days with performances (picture below) and popular lectures. The association had an impressive number of 5,000 members, led by the Serbian General Antonevic.

On May 9th, 1933 the association bought an airplane that was named “Skopje”. In the same year, a new aircraft was purchased with money from lectures and air rallies, to which was given the name “Kosovo”.

First civil flight at Skopje Airport

The first passenger aircraft to land at Skopje Airport on June 15, 1928 was a French-made Potez-29 aircraft that carried 5 passengers and 290 kg of cargo on the Belgrade – Skopje – Podgorica – Mostar – Sarajevo – Belgrade route.

In 1929 the Thessaloniki – Skopje – Belgrade airline started operating. The departure time was at 7 a.m. from Skopje Airport and it was planned that travelers and traders from Thessaloniki could save time and do their daily business in the regional markets of the time. Travelers in Belgrade were given a 6-hour layover. Transport from the city of Skopje to Skopje Airport was organized for the traders and passengers.

“Aero show” in Skopje – a big happening

The “airport shuttle service” left the city’s famous Marger restaurant at 6:15 am and the cost of this transport was calculated on the basis of the flight ticket sold to the Franco-Serbian bank or the agency itself. For the Skopje-Belgrade route, the ticket was 450 dinars and the return ticket, valid for 3 days, 800 dinars. Reserve officers and officers could use the return ticket. Each passenger could take 15 kg of luggage with them free of charge.

The airport only had daily domestic charter flights in the early days and was later classified as an international airport.

The first international flight was carried out in 1930 on the Vienna-Graz-Zagreb-Belgrade-Skopje-Thessaloniki route, and a little later in 1931 the Skopje-Podgorica-Skopje route was launched.

Amy Johnson stopped over in Skopje

The curiosity of the then residents of Skopje peaked when Amy Johnson landed in Skopje in 1930. She was one of the first female pilots in the world, and landed at Skopje Airport on her return from Australia to London in 1930. She was later the first woman to complete a solo flight.

However, Amy did not arrived in Skopje with her own aircraft, but with a passenger flight. The landing in Skopje was purely for promotion.

She flew by passenger plane from Egypt via Athens and Thessaloniki to Skopje. She was greeted by a large crowd in Skopje, as well as by the Mayor of Skopje at the time, Josif Mihajlovic.

Skopje increasingly secured connections to Europe through air traffic. Which then developed increasingly after the second world war.

First Skopje airport destroyed in WWII and the later devastating earthquake

When the Second World War reached Macedonia, it also dragged Skopje into the turmoil of the war. The airport changed hands during the war after German units bombed the airport and was later occupied by their Bulgarian allies. The airport was of strategic importance, and so the port came not only into the focus of the occupiers as the new lords in town, but also in the anti-fascist struggle.

In the book History of the Macedonian People, in the chapter on the beginning of the armed struggle in the territory of Macedonia, it says:

“Various sabotage groups have carried out more armed actions against the occupying armies and the police, for example the destruction of German planes at Skopje airport” (June 1941).

The newly build Airport at Petrovec, in the 1960s

After WWII was over, Skopje Airport was rebuilt and opened to civil traffic. In 1946, a Belgrade-Skopje airline was established with 5-6 flights a week with a DC-3 aircraft (23 seats). In 1951 the Belgrade-Skopje-Thessaloniki-Athens flight was set up, followed three years later by the Belgrade-Skopje-Istanbul route.

The end of the first airport in Skopje then followed in the devastating earthquake of July 26, 1963. The quake destroyed almost 75 percent of the city along the Vardar. The airport continued to operate shortly after the devastating earthquake, which also brought international aid to Skopje. But when it came to rebuild the destroyed Skopje, the first Skopje airport had to give way to a new settlement in the expanding city: the Aerodrom district.

The power in the country, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, now preferred a new building further outside Skopje. Where today’s Skopje Airport still has its home …

Skopje Petrovec Airport

The new airport was built next to the village of Petrovec, today the north-south highway from Serbia to Greece runs thereby. After the redefining of the municipal boundaries in 1996, the airport came into the area of the municipality of Ilinden.

The well-known Macedonian architect Trajko Dimitrov was commissioned to design an airport terminal in the course of the redesign of Skopje after the earthquake. At the new location in Petrovec, he completed the terminal three years after the earthquake in 1966.

The small terminal remained in operation for almost twenty years before a new terminal building with a significantly larger capacity and more modern structures was built at the old Petrovec airport in 1987. The external renovation and expansion were not completed until 1993-95 (see picture below of the terminal).

The airport is still there today, or we should say, the runway is still in the same place. The new and current terminal, on the other hand, was built at a new location, a little further north from the old one.

Alexander The Great Airport

With the new name of the Macedonian king Alexander III of Macedon, the boom began at Skopje Airport, which had been more or less provincial until then.

The “old terminal building” with the new name

In December 2006 the conservative VMRO-DPMNE-led government of the Republic of Macedonia renamed the airport after Alexander the Great (see picture above, the old terminal built in 1987 with the new branding Аеродром Александар Велики Скопје).

Two years later, in 2008, the Macedonian government signed a contract with the Turkish company Tepe Akfen Ventures (TAV) for a 20-year concession, under which this company was to manage the only two existing airports in Macedonia. Skopje “Alexander the Great” airport and “Apostle Paul” airport in Ohrid.

The new partnership resulted in a modern airport: In September 2011, the new and current terminal building, the runway extension, the new administration building, the cargo building and the new access road with parking facilities were opened. Since then, Skopje Airport has recorded steady growth in passenger numbers and an increasing number of travel destinations, and of course, flights.

With the change of government after the elections in December 2016, Alexander the Great was removed as the name of Skopje Airport in February 2018 in order to improve political relations with Greece.

After the name of the airport and the name of the republic changed, a Greek airline flew to Skopje airport again. Aegean Airlines introduced flights between Athens and Skopje, but only with a small propeller plane (Bombardier Dash 8-Q400) from subsidiary Olympic Airlines.

The new terminal of the Alexander The Great Airport in Skopje

Since then, the Skopje Airport bears the somehow boring name “Skopje International Airport”, locals and Macedonians still refer to it as “Aerodrom Aleksandar Veliki”.

Incidents at Skopje Airport

In the almost 100-year history of Macedonian aviation, there have of course also been a number of incidents in and over Skopje Airport.

The following is a list of the known incidents:

On October 22, 1951, a Douglas DC-3/C-47A-20-DK of JAT – Jugoslovenski Aerotransport (aircraft registration YU-ACC) had an accident on the flight from Belgrade near the destination Skopje. Twelve people were killed in the accident.

On July 24, 1992, an Antonov An-12BK operated by Volga-Dnepr Airlines (CCCP-11342) was approaching Skopje Airport when a severe thunderstorm contracted. The pilots tried to avoid the thunderstorm, but lost their orientation because they did not know their exact position due to the non-functional DME of their destination airport. The machine hit against a mountain near Tetovo at an altitude of 1600 meters, all 8 occupants were killed.

On March 5, 1993, a Fokker 100 of Palair Macedonian Airways, PH-KXL, taking off from Skopje airport began to vibrate heavily and crashed behind the runway after several strong tilting movements; 83 of the 97 passengers lost their lives. The reason for the accident was the lack of aircraft de-icing.

On January 12, 2008, a Mil Mi-17 helicopter of the Macedonian Air Force, travelling from Mostar on the way to Skopje Airport, crashed in thick fog on a hill near Katlanovsko Blato and burned out. All 11 occupants died.

On February 13, 2009 the aircraft of the Austrian Airlines flight OS780, Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 scheduled flight from Skopje to Vienna could not retract the landing gear after take-off and made an emergency landing at Skopje Airport.

On November 14, 2011, a private flight Socata TBM700N (TBM850) from Maastricht Aachen Airport to Skopje hit several treetops and approached the runway light on landing. The machine missed the extensive asphalt of the runway and landed on the lawn. All five occupants were able to escape the wreck unscathed. The aircraft was severely damaged and sent to Hence-Socata at Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées Airport for repair.

On February 11, 2012, Czech Airlines Flight 848, a Boeing 737-55S, landed in Skopje from Prague to Skopje because smoke was reported from the aircraft. Airport firefighters and ambulances have been alerted. The plane suffered minor damage and all passengers escaped unharmed.

On September 6, 2016, a private Piper PA-34-200T Seneca II crashed near Vetersko, Veles, while approaching for landing in Skopje.

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