The US and Europe are home to some of the oldest airports in the world. You can easily accept that the history of aviation started in these two locations. Hence, the reason they house some of the oldest airports you can think of. People often look at the history of aircraft, and airlines and how they have developed over the years, often overlooking the history of airports. One may ask, what is an airline without an airport or an aircraft without an airport? Remember that the takeoff and landing of aircraft take place at the airport and some airports offer a dose of destination glitz you don’t want to miss. Today, we dive into the history of airports and present the top 3 oldest airports in the world.

College Park Airport, United States

Founded in 1909 and referred to as the cradle of aviation, the title of the oldest airport in the world that is still in operation goes to College Park Airport, Maryland, U.S.A. 

The airport has a history with the Wright brothers. The first powered airplane flew on the 17th of December, 1903, near Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, by Wilbur and Orville Wright for just 12 seconds. There was a vast improvement by 1905, 2 years after the first flight, and they flew for 39 minutes. They didn’t fly again till they secured contracts.

College Park was opened in 1909 and was initially a base for the Wright brothers to train military officers to fly US government-owned aircraft.

Wright Biplane at the College Park Aviation Field: oldest airports in the world
Wright brothers BiPlane about to touch down at the College Park Aviation Field in 1912 | ©Wikimedia Commons

The airport was then a base for the first military aviation school opened in 1911, 2 years after the airport was founded.

Interestingly, after a century and a decade of service, the airport is still in operation and is used as a gateway for private aviation. The airport houses a museum that displays many aircraft from its rich history. They include a replica Wright Flyer, Bleriot XI, and other early aircraft.

College Park Aviation Field
College Park Aviation Field in 1911 | © Wikimedia Commons

Hamburg Airport, Germany

Hamburg Airport in Germany is the oldest operational airport in Europe and the second oldest in the world. Founded in 1911 as a base for Zeppelin airships, just two years after College Park Airport was founded in the US. The military took over the airport during the First World War, and it was largely destroyed.

However, it re-emerged in 1919, exactly eight years after it was opened.

After the Second World War, it was used as a staging area during the Berlin Airlift. The airport significantly grew as a major international airport for the country.

Passenger services were launched in 1955 by Lufthansa, with Hamburg Airport serving as its main base. Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) followed that and launched services between New York, London, and Hamburg in 1959.

Although it has been overtaken in passenger volume by other airports in Germany, it still remains an important airport of international class.

Hamburg Airport
Hamburg Airport Terminal| © Arne Museler

Special mention: Germany, in fact, did have an older airport founded in 1909, two years before the opening of Hamburg Airport. The Berlin Templehof Airport opened in 1909 and was used for demonstration flights by the Wright brothers and French Aviator Armand Zipfel in its first year. However, the airport closed in 2008.

Shoreham Airport, UK

The oldest airport in the UK is at Shoreham, near Brighton. The airport opened in 1910 and was used as a base by several flight enthusiasts for some bold and early flights in the formative years of the aviation industry.

According to the airport’s documented history, the first of many early flight enthusiasts was Harold Piffard. He is regarded as one of the first British aviators and has experimented with aircraft since 1909. Interestingly, he opened Shoreham as a base to fly his Hummingbird aircraft with a business partner. The Hummingbird aircraft never flew more than a mile but will forever be remembered as the starting point for aviation in the UK.

Shoreham Airport
Shoreham Airport| © Wikimedia Commons

Piffard moved on to other things in the long run, but the airport remained. A flight school was cited at Shoreham in 1913 but was soon taken over by the military during the two World Wars. After more than a century in operation, the airport has been renamed Brighton City Airport.

Summary

You can’t talk about the history of aviation without mentioning these airports.  Aviation history in Europe and the US is rooted in these airports.

The aviation industry may give modern feelings to people worldwide, but they have a long history. The industry is more than a century old, and while we don’t fly hundred-year-old planes, they sometimes take off and land in airports more than a hundred years old.

 

There are other old airports around the world. Do you know them? Please share what you know about them in the comments.

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