Celebrating sixty years of Ljubljana Airport

Written by Veljko Marinković

Sixty years ago on December 24, 1963, a brand-new Ljubljana Airport was officially opened on a cold and snowy Christmas Eve. An Adria Aviopromet (later Adria Airways) Douglas DC-6B aircraft performed, at first, a touch-and-go with a short circle around the airport, after which it had its inaugural touchdown on runway 31 of the new airport at exactly 10:45 a.m. The landing of the first passenger plane attracted the interest of the local population, and some walked several kilometres to witness the aircraft take-off and land at Brnik. As the first commercial flight out of the new airport, an Adria DC-6B (YU-AFE), took off from Brnik’s runway to Belgrade, from where it continued on to Algiers.

Ceremonial opening of the new Ljubljana Airport, 1963

As part of the rapid growth and modernisation of the airport infrastructure in the former Yugoslavia, the capital of Slovenia got a new aerial harbor, following the construction of the new airports in Belgrade and Dubrovnik, as well as the overhaul of Zagreb Airport. The fact that Ljubljana Airport was the only one in Yugoslavia which could also serve parts of Italy and Austria, two nearby countries, was notably highlighted in the airport's promotion, which had an extra effect on the growth of air travel and tourism.

Advertisement in foreign Tourist news about the new Ljubljana Airport (1964) » Ljubljana-Pula airport services enterprise ad (1967)

The first aircraft to land on a small lawn in Šiška, two kilometres from the Ljubljana city centre on October 27, 1918, marked the beginning of the development of the airport infrastructure in Slovenia. Then, in 1933, Polje, close to Ljubljana (in the plain between Sava and Ljubljanica), saw the opening of a new, modern, airport. The airport's initial size was 800 by 600 meters, and landings were permitted from all directions due to the large lowland belt surrounding it. The airport provided two hangars for aircraft, set up water and electricity supplies, and ensured good links to downtown Ljubljana (4 km). The biggest advantage, however, came from Aeroput’s Skopje – Belgrade – Zagreb - Ljubljana route, which cut travel time from ten hours to just three and a half hours from Ljubljana to Belgrade. After World War II, the grass runway was extended; a tower was constructed, and the airport was fitted with a radar, although night flights were not permitted because the runway was unlit. Using its DC-3 aircraft, JAT operated daily scheduled flights to Belgrade via Zagreb. During the summer, the airport in Ljubljana-Polje was connected to Dubrovnik and, on occasion, to Ohrid and Vienna. Even though Ljubljana Airport's position in Polje was ideal, there were 168 foggy days there annually, there was no space for expansion, the equipment was in poor shape, etc., therefore it became more and more obvious that Ljubljana Airport in Polje was no longer suitable and that a new location would need to be found.

JAT DC-3 aircraft at the Ljubljana Polje Airport, 1950s

It was planned to build a Class C airport in accordance with ICAO criteria, but after the airport in Belgrade was constructed and following the adoption of a more detailed design of the airport network in Yugoslavia, the initial decision was devised. The new location was selected as the land next to Brnik village because of the location's ideal terrain and weather, proximity to the main road network, and potential for future growth. At the time, the new airport was located within a radius of 150 kilometres from Slovenia and other neighbouring tourist and commercial hubs, and it was 26 kilometres from Ljubljana downtown and roughly 9 kilometres from Kranj. In 1952, the Slovenian and federal governments funded the construction of a new airport in Ljubljana, for which engineer Josip Jože Didek submitted an in-depth plan of all activities and a conceptual general project.

Works on the construction of the new airport in Ljubljana, 1960s

The biggest challenge to building the airport Ljubljana Brnik, as it was with the other airports in the country, was securing the required funding. As a result, construction at the airport was frequently interrupted. As such, the plans underwent numerous revisions until the runway's length was increased from the original 1,800 meters to 2,550 meters in order to accommodate the landing of larger aircraft. Despite all the challenges, the runway, apron, and terminal building - the three main infrastructure components - were completed in a little over a year, which set a sort of record when compared to all other airports constructed in Yugoslavia. The airport was supposed to open on November 29, Republic Day, but it was delayed for a month since it had not yet received all the required permits. The first plane to land at the new airport was piloted by Adria pilot Karel Rankel, who also opened the airport to the public. It was also Karel (alongside Branivojem Majcanom) who, six months earlier, broke the Yugoslav record for the longest flight duration. An Adria Aviopromet aircraft completed the record-breaking 5.480-kilometre journey in July 1963 by flying nonstop for 13 hours and 22 minutes. It was the first EX-YU commercial flight across the Atlantic, bringing Slovenian emigrants from Canada. The second plane, a JAT Caravelle, was scheduled to land after Adira’s aircraft, carrying high-ranking guests from Belgrade, but due to bad weather, the plane returned. It is interesting to note that after the opening, the christening of the Caravelle jet (YU-AHB, Bled) was supposed to take place, but since it never landed this part of the ceremony program was cancelled.

The terminal building and apron » JAT Caravelle YU-AHA, the first jet-powered engine aircraft that landed in Slovenia » Ljubljana Airport, 1964

On January 9, 1964, the new Brnik airport opened for regular flight operations. JAT initiated scheduled services and remained the primary carrier at the new airport. JAT operated Convair aircraft (JU 720/721) to Belgrade three times a week, with links to Dubrovnik, and it also deployed a Convair from Ljubljana to London, the UK's capital, thrice a week. Every fourteen days, Adria Aviopromet flew scheduled flights to Algiers via Belgrade.

The second phase of the development had to begin right away because the airport was not yet fully completed. The runway was extended to 3.000 meters in December 1964, marking the completion of the second phase. A 600-ton fuel base, an access road, parking areas in front of the terminal building, an administrative building, and water supply networks were constructed. At the airport, Adria also established its technical base (at that point, Adria was using Zagreb Airport as its base due to the DC-6B aircraft's inability to land at the airport in Polje). The airport had the most advanced radio-navigation equipment available at the time. In terms of equipment, Brnik was already the third-best airport in the country (after Zagreb and Belgrade), but it was the only one, aside from Belgrade, that could handle all active passenger jets. When the first aircraft departed from the airport that year, there were just 49 employees across a range of professions.

Arrival of Yugoslav emigrants » A view of the apron and the interior of the terminal » The arrival of the Yugoslav gold Olympic team members from Mexico, Djurdja Bjedov and Miro Cerar, disembarking from JAT's Caravelle (1968) »Advertisement for an organised trip to the airport, for spotting JAT Caravelle landing and taking off » The first landing of the second JAT Caravelle jet „Bled“ (YU-AHB), with tourists from Belgrade visiting Bled (1964) » Ljubljana Airport, 1960s

It's interesting to note that Ljubljana Airport was entirely dependent on the state carrier, JAT, for scheduled international traffic for over ten years, during which time no scheduled flights were provided by other airlines. However, foreign carriers continued to maintain a high volume of charter traffic, which enabled the airport to quickly become well-known among travellers for leisure. Traffic increased rapidly in the first few months of operations; by the end of 1964, 1.171 aircraft had taken off and 1.172 had landed from the new airport, with 27 tons of goods exported and 61 tons imported. Considering that in 1963 just 10.446 people flew by plane from Slovenia's capital, the 76.478 passengers that passed through the gates of the new Ljubljana Airport was an excellent result. It should be noted that the largest increase was generated in international traffic (in 1964), when over half of the passengers travelled outside of Yugoslavia, compared to just 190 in 1963. All of this illustrated how desperately Ljubljana needed a new airport.

JAT Convair 440 » British United Britannia aircraft » Ljubljana Airport, 1960s

Fifteen foreign airlines operated out of Ljubljana Airport in 1965; the following year, 26 airlines, carried 118.894 passengers. As previously mentioned, the majority of these flights were charters from England, Germany, the Netherlands, and North America. Examples of these flights included Martin's Air Charter DC-7c, Convair 340/440, or DC-6B aircraft, British United Airways' BAC 1-11 or Britannia aircraft, and the Sterling Denmark-branded Caravelle that landed at Ljubljana. The great majority of foreign visitors who flew into Brnik continued their bus trip to Istria. Thus, it made sense that Pula's military airport would open to the public in 1967. Due to the widespread practice at the time of airport consolidation for joint growth, Ljubljana-Pula Airport (like Belgrade-Žabljak or later Belgrade-Tivat) was founded in the same year. In contrast to initial projections, the number of passengers using Pula Airport had significantly increased; thus, most of the charter traffic was moved from Brnik to Pula Airport. By the end of the 1960s, Ljubljana Airport in Brnik had lost about 60% of its traffic. The issue of Ljubljana Airport's future potential growth emerged as a result of the decline in traffic.

JAT DC-3 » Ljubljana Airport, 1968

JAT launched the first air freight line at the end of 1968, operating weekly flights from Belgrade via Ljubljana to Munich using DC-3 aircraft, which had a cargo capacity of 2.800 kg. Later, it added weekly cargo flights between Belgrade, Ljubljana, and Zurich. The continued expansion of Slovenian exports depended heavily on these two routes. In addition, both flights offered a fast and efficient connection for transatlantic cargo flights when compared to maritime transportation. Additionally, JAT swiftly responded to the growing demand for air travel by deploying the larger Caravelle jet, initially to London and Frankfurt and then to the majority of foreign routes from Ljubljana, while the Convair continued to operate domestic flights. Seasonal flights to Pula and Dubrovnik were launched by Inex-Adria Aviopromet. Additionally, a triangle service connecting Ljubljana, Belgrade, and Titograd (Podgorica), was added, along with a year-round service to Belgrade, operated by IAA from 1969, as Adria introduced a new addition to its fleet, the T-tail DC-9.

The arrival of the first jet aircraft, DC-9, for Inex Adria Aviopromet, named „Ljubljana“ » Ljubljana Airport, 1969

With the start of the new service to Frankfurt in the summer of 1971, Ljubljana Airport Brnik became the first airport in the region to be able to accept and send palletized cargo. Once a week, a Boeing 737 aircraft, branded in the colours of the German airline Lufthansa, would fly this route, transporting cargo in air containers and on pallets. Simultaneously, these flights turned into the first regularly scheduled flights, solely for freight, run from the Slovenian capital by a foreign carrier. European cities had become reachable within 24 hours, and the whole world within 72 hours at most. Together with Lufthansa, the airport bought the required equipment.

Lufthansa Boeing 737-200C (D-ABCE) loading cargo » Ljubljana Airport, 1970s

The airport celebrated the arrival of its millionth passenger since its opening on November 22, 1971, marking a significant milestone. The landing of the first wide-body aircraft will be remembered in the 60-year history of Ljubljana Airport as the next significant event. On July 31, 1973, on a hot summer's day, a DC-10 aircraft operated by Trans International Airlines performed a landing on runway 30 while carrying Slovenian emigrants on a charter flight from Cleveland. The arrival of the "jumbo" jet at Brnik airport attracted interest, just as they did in other cities across EX-YU. As reported by the "Glas" newspaper, 350 passengers from the DC-10 were welcomed by more than 15.000 curious residents of Ljubljana and its soundings.

An excited public welcomes the first “jumbo”, the TIA DC-10 » Ljubljana Airport, 1973

The airport's existing facilities, specifically the terminal building and apron, were too small to handle the growing number of passengers and heavier aircraft that were landing. Constructing a new terminal building - actually, Ljubljana Airport expanded the old one - was the first step towards resolving this issue. Bank loans and the airport's funds were used to finance the project. The construction process took seven months. The new terminal, which could accommodate one million passengers annually, was 4.000 square meters in size when it opened in September 1973. In addition, a new restaurant and a taxiway were built, and the platform was expanded to allow up to 14 DC-9-sized planes to park at once. Back then, the McDonnell Douglas DC-9, also known as the "nine’s", was the most frequently operated aircraft at Ljubljana Airport. It was primarily used by JAT, IAA, and other airlines.

JAT, Inex Adria Aviopromet, KLM DC-9 » Ljubljana Airport, 1970s

President Tito was always a welcomed guest at Ljubljana Airport, with its presidential fleet: DC-6B, Caravelle SE-210, and Boeing 727 » Ljubljana Airport, the 1960s and 1970s

In the summer of 1974, when Zagreb Airport was being overhauled, Ljubljana Airport took over all of its traffic, which served as a sort of test run for the new passenger terminal and other facilities. And it achieved the highest mark in this test. The traffic density was several times more than typical at that time. The airport handled 2.670 airplanes (45 on average each day) in 64 days (July and August), with 287.447 passengers passing through its gates and 1.853 tons of goods being sent out. The brief takeover of Zagreb Airport's traffic demonstrated Ljubljana Brnik Airport's organisational and technical capacity to handle even the most difficult of jobs with a skilled staff. The Swiss airline Swissair launched its regular cargo service from Zurich via Zagreb, at the end of 1974.

JAT DC-9 and Boeing 707 » Ljubljana Airport, 1974

Transmeridian Air Cargo Canadiar CL-44O » Pan American Boeing 707 Clipper jet » World Airways DC-8 just arrived from Minnesota with Slovenian emigrants » Inex Adria DC-9 and JAT Boeing 727 fleet » Musical ensemble Lojzeta Slaka and JAT Boeing 727 » JAT ad for new flights out of Slovenia » Inex Adria crew » JAT DC-9 tail stairs boarding » Ljubljana Airport, 1970s

A new 6.000-square-meter cargo and customs area was built in 1976 as a result of the increase in cargo traffic. It was arranged for the terminal to handle both palletised and non-palletised goods. As a result, Brnik became the first airport in Yugoslavia to be licensed for cargo processing and disposal within an integral transport system. Nonetheless, the landing of JAT’s four-engined Boeing 707 on a scheduled flight from Belgrade to New York on April 1, 1976, was the most significant event of the year. The history of Ljubljana Airport marks this date as the start of scheduled, transcontinental flights.

JAT's advertisement in the Slovenian newspaper “Glas”, regarding the launch of a scheduled flight, Ljubljana-New York » First JAT Boeing 707 flight JU502, Belgrade-Ljubljana-New York, preparing for departure » Welcoming American journalists » Thank-you note from JAT's operations center to Ljubljana Airport for the quick dispatch of the charter flight to Toronto» Ljubljana Airport, 1976

During the summer of 1977, JAT operated nonstop flights from Ljubljana to Amsterdam, London Heathrow, Frankfurt, Paris, Zurich, and St. Petersburg, connecting it with most of the major European hubs. In addition, JAT began offering flights to Sarajevo, Split, Skopje, and Podgorica (Titograd) at the start of the winter schedule in 1977. Additionally, a larger Boeing 727 was used on flights to Belgrade, which departed Ljubljana at 7 a.m., arriving from Belgrade at 7 p.m. the previous evening, making it the perfect flight for business travellers. Simultaneously, Interflug became the first foreign airline to offer scheduled flights to Ljubljana when it began operating its new Tupolev Tu-134 flights twice a week between East Berlin and Ljubljana.

First foreign carrier, Interflug TU-134 (1977)» JAT DC-9 (YU-AJL) de-icing in progress » Airport catering » Aviogenex TU-134A maintenance check» Aviation Marshaller, ready for the next aircraft » JAT Boeing 727 luggage loading» Control tower » Ljubljana Airport, 1970s

The larger aircraft meant the volume of traffic doubled or tripled in ten years, and it was obvious the runway was beginning to deteriorate. The decision to begin a new airport renovation project was taken after more than a year of planning. This decision had previously been postponed multiple times. After the airport halted all traffic on June 30, 1978, at midnight, the overhaul began. The runway was extended and expanded, as well as rebuilt and modernised. In order to accommodate the new DC-10 baggage transit technology, the area hosting the domestic and international baggage sorting facilities was upgraded and the terminal building itself was expanded. All domestic and international traffic was handled by the airports at Maribor and Pula during the reconstruction, with intercontinental flights being rerouted to Zagreb.

Runway renovation » Ljubljana Airport, 1978

The renovation of the runway was the main priority. The runway was asphalted for the first time and was essentially reconstructed. Additionally, even though the weather at Brnik airport was better than at the former Polje airport, there were still a lot of issues with winter flight cancellations or delays, mostly because of fog. For this reason, more resources were allocated to improving the airport's classification for landing and take-offs in situations with poor visibility. Ljubljana Airport acquired a CAT II rating with the installation of a modern instrument landing system (ILS) with runway dimensions of 3.300 meters by 60 meters. Ljubljana Airport became the first EX-YU airport with CAT II as a result.

Inside terminal: departure board, chein-in desk, domestic flights hall, duty-free shop » Ljubljana Airport, 1978

A few days ahead of schedule, construction work was completed; specifically, the renovation phase took 52 days. With over 2.000 people in attendance for the grand opening, the renovated Ljubljana Airport reopened for business on August 31. The official opening of the airport was supposed to coincide with the landing of JAT's new DC-10, but that didn't happen because the aircraft's delivery was delayed due to a strike by McDonald Douglas employees. A new chapter in the sixty-year history of Ljubljana Airport began, however, a few months later, in December 1978, a brand-new JAT DC-10, YU-AMA, named "Nikola Tesla", landed for the first time at the airport on a regular flight to New York, USA. With connections to the most significant global hubs, Ljubljana boasted an airport of the highest standard.

JAT's advertisement in the Slovenian newspaper “Glas”, regarding the deployment of DC-10 from Ljubljana to New York (flights were postponed till December) » First Yugoslav „jumbo“ DC-10, YU-AMA, named „Nikola Tesla“, taxing for the first time in Slovenia » Ljubljana Airport, 1978

Ljubljana Airport welcomed the Boeing 747, the "Queen of Sky", for the first time in the summer of 1980. With almost 80 tons of goods, a Lufthansa Boeing 747F cargo version touched down on the Brnik runway. The aircraft and cargo handling was effectively managed by airport services. In the years that followed, Ljubljana saw the arrival of numerous airlines and aerial giants carrying a diverse range of freight. The so-called "chains" of cargo planes carrying meat, eggs, and chickens were also frequent.

“Jumbos”: JAT DC-10, Pan Am Boeing 747F (Clipper Golden Eagle) » A view from Lufthansa Boeing 747F » JAT second DC-10 (YU-AMB), “Edvard Rusijan” » Ljubljana Airport, 1980s

The number of passengers at Ljubljana Airport doubled, from 275.460 to 627.931, between 1972 and 1982. The cargo traffic experienced a similar pattern. Ljubljana Airport ranked fifth among the EX-YU airports in terms of passengers served, but it followed closely behind Belgrade and Zagreb in terms of the volume of cargo handled. Although traffic fluctuated during the specified period, remarkable results were achieved considering the financial situation in the country, a lack of aviation fuel, and the sharp rise in fuel costs on the global market as a result of the oil crisis. During the specified period, there was a significant increase in the number of air connections in passenger traffic within EX-YU. With more than thirty weekly flights, Belgrade, the country's capital, was the most connected point to Ljubljana. JAT and Inex Adria also flew from Ljubljana to the capitals of other EX-YU republics, mostly three to four weekly flights, often as a triangle service.

Inside terminal: departure board, chein-in area, restaurant, duty-free shop » Ljubljana Airport, 1980s

Outside terminal: parking, visitor terrace » Ljubljana Airport, 1980s (from the book: Letališče Ljubljana)

Brnik had several weekly connections with coastal airports, mostly Split, Pula, Tivat, and Dubrovnik, during the summer operated by JAT, Inex Adria, and Aviogenex. In terms of international flights, Ljubljana Airport was easily connected to many world and European cities through Belgrade and the branched network of JAT flights. Nonstop flights were offered to Frankfurt, Berlin, Amsterdam, London, Zurich, and New York. The airport in Ljubljana had established itself, also, as a winter travel hub, and charter traffic continued to be a major source of revenue. Ljubljana Airport saw a rise in traffic as the 1980s came to an end, setting a historic record in 1987 with 886.248 passengers passing through its doors. The primary factor influencing this traffic record was the exceptionally low cost of air travel for domestic travellers, who contributed for nearly 60% of all traffic. Regretfully, this record wouldn’t be surpassed over the following ten years. At Ljubljana Airport, JAT maintained a dominating 51% market share, with Adria Airways holding roughly 40% of the market. It is interesting that Aviogenex was ranked third and that the company even operated a base in Ljubljana. Throughout the airport's history, Aviogenex had operated flights under the designation codes JJ043 from Ljubljana to Split, JJ041 to Dubrovnik, and JJ025/027 to Belgrade.

Ljubljana Airport and its services » Aviation Marshaller signals JAT's DC-10 » Newspapers dispatching over EX-YU onboard JAT Boeing 727 » Airport announcements » Inex Adria DC-9 and Ground Power Unit » Tower Control » JAT Boeing 737 » Aviogenex Boeing 727 and Tu-134A fleet » JAT ATR-42 take-off roll » Fire department » Inex Adria maintenance base » Winter services » Ljubljana Airport, 1980s

In addition to the "Big Apple" flights, JAT utilised the DC-10 on services from Belgrade to London via Ljubljana, making the aircraft a frequent visitor to the Slovenian capital. The most advanced aircraft of the time and the first Yugoslav Airbus A320 (YU-AOA) made its debut at Ljubljana Airport in 1989. On May 22, 1989, Adria's new flagship took off on its first commercial flight from Ljubljana to Larnaca via Belgrade. After many years, Adria Airways began offering scheduled international service out of Ljubljana.

Yugoslav alpinist Tomo Česen, Adia Dash-7 plane (1990) » Arrival of the first Yugoslav and Adria Airbus A320 YU-AOA, 1989 (later SL-AAA and S5-AAA) » JAT ad in Slovenian newspapers» Adria Airways DC-9 fleet » First JAT Boeing 737-300 YU-AND, first time at Ljubljana (September 1985) » Arrival of the first DC-9-50 for Adria (1981) »Turkish Bogazichi BGT DC-10 » Aviogenex Boeing 737-200 YU-ANP » Britannia Boeing 737-200, charter flight from London » Adria Airways ad for Republics Day » Printing of the passenger list at the LJU airport via the HP 9835 computer (1981) » Ljubljana Airport, 1980s

Ljubljana Airport experienced the same fate as other EX-YU airports in the early 1990s. Due to the collapse of Yugoslavia, Ljubljana lost its nonstop flights to New York, which have never been reinstated, as well as domestic flights, which contributed to a notable drop in traffic. The airport was closed from June 1991 to February 1992, during which time certain facilities sustained damage. Following Slovenia's independence, Ljubljana Airport was designated as the central state airport, with Adria Airways emerging as the major airline based there. Swiss Air was the first foreign airline to offer scheduled service to Ljubljana Airport. The airline operated three weekly flights to Zurich deploying a Saab 340-Fairchild, which could accommodate 33 passengers. Later on, the equipment was upgraded to a Fokker 70/100. Using a combination of DC-9 and MD-82 aircraft, Adria Airways launched several new, scheduled routes to major European cities, including Frankfurt (daily), London (LHR/LGW 3x), Moscow (2x), Tirana (3x), and Tel Aviv (1x). Additionally flights to Vienna were restored in 1990 and run by Dash 7s. Likewise, the Dash was deployed to Zurich four times a week.

Swiss Air ad regarding new flights published in Slovenian magazine (1992) » Adria Airways ad regarding new flights » Ljubljana Airport, 1990s

The terminal's biggest expansion was completed in 1992 and 1993. As a result, the passenger terminal was expanded to 6.000 square meters, and the runway was resurfaced. Simultaneously, in 1993, Aeroflot established a link between Moscow and Ljubljana, with the Tupolev Tu-134 aircraft operating the route. At that time, PalAir Macedonia launched a scheduled cargo route between Skopje and Ljubljana, while Croatian startup airline Anić Airways, with an ATR-42, operated a single weekly flight to Split. Between 1991 and the end of 1996, the number of passengers, cargo handled, and aircraft movements more than doubled due to the introduction of Adria Airways' scheduled and charter flights. After being transformed into a joint stock company, Airport Ljubljana was listed on the Ljubljana Stock Exchange in 1997. However, one of the most significant events in the airport's sixty-year history occurred in 1999 when it obtained a license to operate under CAT III b in low visibility, becoming one of only 100 airports worldwide equipped with such equipment. At the same time, equipment for enhanced security and firefighting and rescue operations was acquired, along with modern airport devices. Aside from Adria, which held a dominant position in Ljubljana in 1998, scheduled services were operated by British Airways, Aeroflot, Swiss Air, Montenegro Airlines, Avioimpex, and Croatia Airlines. During the summer season, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, and Split were the most frequented destinations for travellers, with the highest passenger counts.

Macedonian Airlines MAT Boeing 737-200 » CrossAir Avro RJ 85 » Swiss Air Fokker Fokker 100 (HB-IVA) landing for the first time on runway 12 » Ljubljana Airport, 1990s

Anić Airways ATR-42 » Aeroflot Tu-134A first time at Ljubljana » PalAir Antonov AN-12 » The first flight after the opening of the airport (1992)» Ljubljana Airport, 1993

The operation of the airport in Ljubljana faced numerous challenges since the beginning of the new century. Due to the global aviation crisis, passenger numbers fell sharply overnight in 2001 for the first time since 1993. After an 11-year hiatus, JAT resumed flights from Belgrade to Ljubljana's Brnik Airport in 2002. The airport began constructing a hangar for general aviation and setting up a platform for general aviation. easyJet, Austrian Airlines, Malév Hungarian Airlines, and Air France were the four new airlines that arrived at Ljubljana Airport the following year. For the first time in its history, Ljubljana Airport handled more than a million passengers in 2004.

JAT ATR-72 YU-ALN and winter wonderlands » A view from the visitor terrace » Departures »The construction of a hangar for general aviation » Ljubljana Airport, 2000s

A postcard from Ljubljana Airport, Brnik » 2000s

Turkish Airlines added three scheduled flights per week between Ljubljana and Istanbul in mid-January 2006, growing the number of available carriers and connections from Brnik. Work on the airport’s apron, which was expanded by roughly 5.800 square meters, began that same year. The airport started evolving into a freight hub in the region with the arrival of the daily UPS freight line. Wizz Air became the first low cost airline to connect the capital of Slovenia with Brussels (Charleroi) and London (Luton). Airport Brnik in Ljubljana welcomed a new charter airline, the British travel giant First Choice, after a 15-year break in foreign tourist charter operations in Slovenia.

Wizz Air A320 first time at Ljubljana » Montenegro Airlines Fokker 100 on finals » Jat Airways leased Boeing 737-300 YU-AON (photo: Borut Smrdelj, 2006) » Air France, Fokker 70 » Ljubljana Airport, 2000s

Ljubljana Airport was renamed to Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport upon the ceremonial opening of the new section of the passenger terminal 1, in 2007. Four additional air bridges were added as well, while the new system for aircraft maneuvering was installed. Two new airlines, Brussels Airlines from Belgium and Finnair from Finland, began regular services at the same time. A new general aviation terminal was opened, the runway was extended, and the aircraft parking platform in front of the terminal was expanded.

Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport, 2007

In 2010, Adria Airways, using a 48-seat Bombardier CRJ-200, resumed service to Belgrade six times a week, marking the airline's first return to Belgrade in twenty years. While air travel in Europe had largely recovered, passenger traffic at Ljubljana Airport continued to decline. The runway was upgraded for the first time since 1978. As a result, the airport was closed for air traffic from April 7 to April 21, 2010, while the central portion of the runway was being reconstructed. Resurfacing the asphalt, enlarging sections of the taxiways, upgrading the lighting system, and adding more cable conduits were all part of the runway overhaul. Adria Airways continued to hold a dominant lead, with a peak market share of over 77% in 2010. In 2012, the business lounge was renovated and expanded and the standard for passengers traveling in a higher class was improved, and the commercial offer in the international area of the passenger terminal was expanded.

Adria Airways fleet, Bombardier and Airbus jets » Last flight of the first Adria Airbus A320 (2010) » Iran Air Airbus A300 (EP-IBA, 2014) » Ljubljana Airport, 2010s

CSA ATR-42 » Finnair A320 » Inside new Business Lunge » Ljubljana Airport, 2012

At the end of 2013, 1.321.100 passengers passed through Ljubljana Airport, up 10.2% from the previous year, marking the first increase in both passenger and freight traffic since 2008. The growth in foreign airline traffic was a major factor in stopping the multi-year negative trend, and Adria Airways also stabilised its operations after several years of generating losses. Daily flights were established between Ljubljana and Belgrade by Air Serbia.

The sale of the company to German airport operator Fraport AG, which signed an agreement in September 2014 to buy 75.5% of shares for 177.1 million euros, formally making Fraport AG the majority owner of "Aerodrom Ljubljana, d.d." (later it would acquire the remaining shares for a 100% stake), was the biggest turning point in the history of the airport in the year when Ljubljana Airport was celebrating 50 years from the first scheduled flight. In 2014, the airport offered scheduled services to 25 destinations, which were served by nine airlines. Due in large part to Adria Airways' two new routes that it introduced in 2014 - Prague and Warsaw - the number of passengers increased in 2014. Turkish Airlines and Air Serbia also saw notable increases in passenger counts in addition to the domestic carrier. The following year, traffic increased again, this time at the fastest rate in the region (10%), nearly ten times faster than the average growth in passenger traffic at airports in Europe. Adria Airways’ summer schedule included flights to Berlin and Stockholm. Swiss launched Zurich flights in 2015. Despite having decent loads, this route was regrettably discontinued by the end of the year.

Various perspectives of the airport» Winter services in action» Water cannon salute for first Transavia Boeing 737» Russian President Putin's fleet during his visit to Slovenia: Ilyushin IL-96-300PU, IL-76MD and Tupolev Tu-204 (2016)» Japan Airlines JAL Boeing 777 few seconds before touch-down (photo: Pavel Barabaš, 2013) » Ljubljana Airport, 2010s

In 2016, Adria Airways increased frequencies on five of its destinations from Ljubljana (Amsterdam, Paris, Sarajevo, Warsaw, and Zurich); other foreign airlines also increased their number of services. Low cost easyJet expanded its network of flights from London's Gatwick Airport, while Turkish Airlines increased the number of weekly flights to Istanbul from ten to fourteen. Additionally, new airlines such as LOT Polish Airlines and Aegean Airlines began service to Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport for the first time. Four All Nippon Airways (ANA) nonstop charter flights touched down from Japan. All in all, Ljubljana Airport had not yet surpassed its record number of passengers, set in 2008 at 1.673.050. Slovenia's busiest airport added an additional arrivals and departures gate and cleared space in a bid to expand commercial and retail areas, as well as improve passenger comfort.

Adria Airways, easy Jet, Wizz Air, Aegean Airlines, Turkish Airlines » DHL Boeing 757F and El Al Boeing 777 » Ljubljana Airport, 2010s

In 2017 Ljubljana Jože Pučnik continued to surpass its previous best performance from 2008, when growth was fuelled by Slovenia's presidency of the European Union Council. It welcomed 1.683.045 passengers, a 19.8% increase over 2016 and a total that was higher than expected and the highest in Ljubljana Airport's history. Additionally, a spike of 18.7% was recorded in the amount of cargo and mail processed during the year, totalling 12.324 tons, the highest cargo tonnage to date. After easyJet and Wizz Air, the low cost carrier Transavia became the third budget airline to serve Ljubljana when it started offering flights from Amsterdam. During the summer, Adria Airways began offering service to Kiev and boosted frequencies to other cities outside of its primary hub in Ljubljana. The construction of a second terminal building at Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport had been announced. Originally scheduled to open for the 2020 summer season, the opening date was later pushed back to 2021.

Ljubljana Airport broke all previous records for the number of passengers handled in 2018 when it welcomed 1.812.411 travellers, continuing the trend of setting records that it started in 2017. In 2018, 11 scheduled airlines operated out of Ljubljana Airport, offering 34 different destinations across 24 countries during the summer schedule and 25 destinations across 20 countries during the winter schedule, with over 210 scheduled flights per week. With a roughly 57% market share, national carrier Adria Airways, along with easyJet, and Turkish Airlines had the largest impact on the growth in passengers. In the summer, Adria boosted frequencies on multiple destinations and opened seven new routes from Ljubljana, marking its largest expansion to date. Along with seasonal flights to Dubrovnik and Brač, the Slovenian carrier launched additional year-round services to Bucharest, Dusseldorf, Geneva, Hamburg, and Sofia. Regretfully, the flights between Brač and Geneva ended before the summer was over, and by the end of 2018, Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport was no longer connected to Kiev and Bucharest. Passenger numbers for charter services increased by 23.9%, which was an even greater growth than for scheduled services. Greece, Turkey, and Tunisia were the Mediterranean destinations that had the highest number of charter passengers during the summer season.

Aeroflot SSJ-100, inaugural flight from Moscow » Modernized parts of the airport » Turkish Airlines Boeing 777 final preparations for departure, with fans of the Slovenian basketball team, for the final match in Istanbul » Welcoming the golden basketball team of Slovenia, Luka Dončić, Goran Dragić and the team on board Adria Airways CRJ-700 » Ljubljana Airport, 2010s

Following a 15-year hiatus, the Russian airline Aeroflot resumed operations to Ljubljana Airport, operating daily Sukhoi Superjet 100 flights to Moscow. With the introduction of three weekly flights to Berlin, low cost airline easyJet opened its third destination from Ljubljana, becoming the second-largest airline operating out of Ljubljana in terms of capacity. easyJet added Berlin Tegel to its list of destinations from Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport, joining London Gatwick and London Stansted. In addition to its existing service from London Luton to the Slovenian capital, Wizz Air also began operating flights from London Stansted Airport during the winter of 2018. HOP!, a regional subsidiary of Air France, increased capacity of its Paris - Ljubljana route and began operating 100-seat Embraer 190 aircraft on these flights between the two capitals, complementing Adria Airways' ten weekly rotations. Several unique aircraft types, including the wide-body ANA Boeing 777-300ER, which operated charter flights from Japanese cities, touched down at Ljubljana Airport in 2018. Furthermore, Japan Airlines (JAL), ANA's competitor, operated a single charter flight from Osaka to Ljubljana.

Beginning in 2019, foreign airlines increased their presence in Ljubljana. British Airways utilised the largest of the Airbus A320 narrow-body family, the A321, to establish a connection between Ljubljana and London's main airport, Heathrow, for the first time since 2001. Furthermore, LOT Polish Airlines continued to operate all its flights from Warsaw to Ljubljana using its fleet of Embraer jets rather than Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 turboprops, while Aeroflot boosted capacity from the SSJ-100 to the Airbus A320. With the launch of a new two-weekly route from Niš, Air Serbia expanded its operations in the Slovenian capital by adding 288 seats each way. The twelve weekly routes that were maintained between the capitals of Slovenia and Serbia were added by those flights. The number of flights operated by Air France between Ljubljana and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport has more than doubled.

All indications point to 2019 surpassing previous records and handling more than 2 million passengers at Ljubljana Airport for the first time in its history. However, in September, Adria Airways, which had existed for 58 years, halted operations and filed for bankruptcy. The business and passenger flows of Ljubljana Airport were heavily dependent on Adria Airways, which generated around half of the airport's total traffic. Additionally, Adria had no competition on twelve routes from the capital of Slovenia, and the lack of such flights had a significant effect on the passenger figures during the last months of 2019.

Water cannon salute for the new airlines: Brussels Airlines A319 and Lufthansa CRJ-900» Air Serbia A319 “Novak Djoković” at the gate» Fraport aviation academy firefighting vehicle at the new academy training center» Arrivals board» British Airways A321» Ljubljana Airport, 2019

Foreign airlines responded quickly to this situation, and in October Lufthansa began operating daily flights from Munich and twice daily flights from Frankfurt to Ljubljana using the Bombardier CRJ900 aircraft. This was the airline's first scheduled passenger service to the capital of Slovenia. The other member in the German Lufthansa group, Swiss International Air Lines, launched flights from Zurich. In the winter schedule, the airline upgraded from five weekly flights to a daily service. It used Airbus A220s and Embraer 190s to operate the route. Additionally, a 141-seat Airbus A319 operated by Brussels Airlines made its maiden landing at Brnik airport, launching six weekly flights from the Belgian capital to Ljubljana. Air Serbia introduced a third daily flight on specific days during the winter season for a total of seventeen weekly rotations between Belgrade and Ljubljana. Montenegro Airlines increased its service to Podgorica from four to six weekly flights. Additionally, DHL Express, utilising a larger 767-200SF freighter plane, increased capacity on its four weekly cargo flights from Leipzig to Ljubljana.

Fraport Slovenija's management estimated that it would be able to recover 90% of traffic from 2018 to 2020 and that it would be able to replace the majority of the former national carrier's routes in around a year and a half. As of the beginning of 2020, nine of Adria's routes - Vienna, Prague, Copenhagen, Manchester, Sofia, Pristina, Skopje, Tirana, and Sarajevo - remained unserved. With 1.727.136 passengers at the end of 2019, the airport saw a 5% decrease in traffic from 2018. This was largely due to foreign airlines increasing their frequencies, therefore it may be considered a major accomplishment for the airport management to locate replacement flights so quickly.

On March 17, 2020, in reaction to the worldwide coronavirus epidemic, the Slovenian government issued a directive restricting all passenger flights within the country, which marked a significant shift in expectations for future traffic development. The government removed the restriction on international passenger air travel on May 12, marking the end of the complete closure of passenger operations. Air Serbia was the first airline to return to the airport in late May. It utilised the ATR 72 to make two weekly flights to Ljubljana Airport, but later changed the frequency to suit daily demand. Nine out of the seventeen scheduled airlines that were supposed to operate out of the airport during the summer schedule, though with fewer flights, came after Air Serbia.

easyJet A320neo taxing, prior to departure » Construction works on a new terminal building» A view on a runway 12/30» Air Serbia veteran ATR-72 YU-ALO and crew, operating first flight to/out Ljubljana after COVID ban» Sichuan Airlines A330 and PlusUltra A340» Ljubljana Airport, 2020

There were only 291.910 passengers handled at Ljubljana Airport in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic's severe effect on the aviation industry. This represented a decrease of more than 80% from the previous year.

A total of 25 airlines offered scheduled flights out of the Slovenian capital to sixteen different destinations as of the beginning of the 2021 summer peak season: Transavia to Amsterdam, Air Montenegro to Tivat, Air Serbia to Belgrade, Brussels Airlines to Brussels, Wizz Air to Brussels Charleroi, Lufthansa to Frankfurt, Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, Aeroflot to Moscow, Air France to Paris, LOT Polish Airlines to Warsaw, and Swiss International Air Lines to Zurich among them.

The official opening of a brand-new terminal with state-of-the-art infrastructure spanning 10.000 square metres was the biggest event of 2021 and one of the milestones that will remain in the sixty-year history of Ljubljana Airport. The operator Fraport Slovenija invested about 21 million euros into building the cutting-edge structure. With a new departure hall, 14 check-in desks (22 in total, counting those in the old terminal), five security screening lanes, two baggage claim carousels, a new baggage sorting area, a new business lounge, and improved catering and retail amenities, the new terminal's capacity was doubled to serve more than 1.200 passengers per hour. Plan B created the new building's architecture, which is a contemporary, light-filled area with lots of glass surfaces that provide beautiful views of the runway, the Julian Alps, and the Kamnik-Savinja Alps on opposite sides.

New Ljubljana Airport terminal » Honey, the product of Ljubljana Airport » 2021

Charter passengers bound for Antalya were the first to depart the new terminal; next were basketball fans on a charter flight to Lithuania and Lufthansa's first scheduled passenger flight to Frankfurt. Simultaneously, a new destination was added to Ljubljana Airport flight network. For the first time in the airport's history, Iberia began offering flights to Madrid on August 2. The Oneworld alliance's founding member, British Airways, resumed services to Ljubljana Airport. Additionally, Flydubai started operating to Dubai and established a nonstop air link between Ljubljana Airport and the United Arab Emirates for the first time.

Airlines and aircraft: Iberia A320, Fly Dubai Boeing 737MAX, Trade Air A320, Brussels Airlines A320 “Tintin”, Air Serbia ATR72, Air France A319, Qatar Airways Boeing 747, Turkish Airlines A321, Transavia Boeing 737-800 » Antonov AN-124-100M “Ruslan” » Ljubljana Airport, 2020s

Ljubljana Airport ended 2021 with 430.943 passengers, up 47.6% on 2020, but still below the expected results, with the obvious combined impact of the pandemic and the lack of a national carrier. In 2022 Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport continued with an increase in passenger flow handling 970.152 travellers. The figure represented an increase of 129.8% on the year before but was down 43.6% on the pre-pandemic 2019. The airport’s recovery rate during 2022 was below the European industry average but outperformed the airport’s earlier estimates. Lufthansa remained Ljubljana's busiest carrier, and together with its equity partners, Swiss and Brussels Airlines, the Lufthansa Group have played a dominant role in the Slovenian aviation sector.

Wizz Air crew after first flight from Skopje» Turkish Airlines A321neo at the gate » Winter network » Lufthansa Embrarer 190 rotation from the runway 30 » Luxair Dash Q400 » Follow-Me » Electric vehicle charging station » Aegean Airlines A320neo » Ljubljana Airport, 2020s

Ljubljana Airport is celebrating 60 years of operation this year, and it has continued to increase passenger numbers. The airport has already welcomed over a million passengers. Wizz Air has reconnected Ljubljana and Skopje after four years, Luxair started operating two weekly flights to Luxembourg, and Aegean resumed its service between Slovenia and Greece. During the summer of 2023, fifteen scheduled airlines flew to eighteen different destinations.

With 2018 being the busiest year on record, Ljubljana Airport has handled over 50 million passengers, saw over a million aircraft movements, and processed roughly 750.000 tons of cargo over the last 60 years. Ljubljana Airport has seen many ups and downs in its sixty years of operation, but it has never stopped from its main goal of serving as Slovenia's aviation hub, and hopefully, it will continue to do so for another sixty years.


  1. Anonymous10:09

    Well written!

  2. Anonymous10:14

    Excellent. The rich history of the airport, with quite a few intercontinental flights, begs the question of when, if ever, they will be relevant again.

  3. Anonymous10:21

    Beautifully written and super interesting!

  4. Anonymous10:37

    Great article!

  5. Anonymous10:38

    There were once very exciting times for LJU

    1. Anonymous14:26

      Vsa zgodovina LJU letališča se je končala z uničenjem Adrie.

    2. Anonymous22:36

      Amen to that!

  6. Thank you for super interesting article. If you visit car rental desks area located at the old terminal you can get a glimpse of how the terminal looked in the 70ties. It is sort of time travel as this part stayed almost untouched.

  7. Anonymous10:45

    Remarkably well-written history timeline, especially assuming that the author is not from SLO. Pics are true gems, and if I must choose I will go with follow me Volkswagen Buba and Dc10

  8. Anonymous10:54

    Really interesting. Thanks for that. Flying into Brnik has always been a positive experience for me, especially in the good old days when Adria operated MAN-LJU.

  9. Anonymous11:30

    Great read, thank you for this. Thinking that the article best shows that airport in Ljubljana ASAP needs some base company at it. Call it Jat, Adria Janez or Janša Air.., what ever, but let someone base the aircraft at the airport. I mean Lju returned to pax levels from 1987

  10. Anonymous11:41

    Great analysis!!!!!!! Very good!!!!!!!! Very well ex aviation!!!!! Passenger traffic should always hover around 1 million. They will slowly recover after covid.

    1. Anonymous14:29

      Brez nacionalnega prevoznika ne bodo nikoli okrevali. Ne morete se večno izgovarjati na covid. Glejte podatke drugih YU letališč.

  11. Anonymous12:17

    What a time, organized to go to watch the landing of Caravela, DC10, terrace and cafe on the roof of the airport, I miss those Adira JP800 morning flights to Belgrade, and when there was more demand, usually around the holidays, they would add another JP8000 flight. Thank you, Luka, Veljko and the whole team for this

  12. notLufthansa19:51

    well written. It is kind of bizarre twist of destiny...it was Central Committee of League of Communists of Slovenia who ordered the construction of the airport at Brnik in order to open Slovenia to the world and because they were aware, that any nation needs infrastructure in order to thrive economically. Airport was just one of the projects, others were Adria Aviopromet, Luka Koper, Highway system etc...
    It is even thus even sadder that the modern "politicians", who had and still have no appreciation for same economics facts those "old red farts" had, and just let everything out of our hands (read: sold for peanuts). Ms. Bratusek is one of the biggest gravediggers in Slovenian history in regards to infrastructure.

    1. notLufthansa23:01

      some corrections for the pictures: JAT DC-3 aircraft at the Ljubljana Polje Airport, 1950s>on right picture airport is Lesce, not Polje.

    2. notLufthansa23:04

      "alongside Branivojem Majcanom" > his name was Branivoj Majcen...

    3. Anonymous00:48

      Slovenska osamosvojitvena politika v vseh 30 letih ni poznala (in še ne pozna) , kaj pomenita pojma STRATEGIJA in INFRASTRUKTURA.

  13. Anonymous09:04

    I'm finding a lot of new information, in particular this airport's second logo, which I was unaware of until now.

  14. Anonymous20:51

    Proud to have spent my 40 working years at this airport. With all the ups and downs. It was unique. Long live Ljubljana Airport!


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