Sarajevo Airport and the 1984 Winter Olympic Games


Written by Veljko Marinković

Sarajevo and Yugoslavia organised the XIV Winter Olympic Games forty years ago. Thus, it is right to claim that Sarajevo's airport in Butmir became one of the most important spots in the world during the Olympics, setting numerous records since it opened in 1969. The 1984 Winter Olympics candidacy of Sarajevo is where the story of one of the airport's most memorable moments likely starts. The airport's existing capacity was insufficient to handle the anticipated volume of passengers and aircraft, particularly wide-body ones. Due to the restricted operations in Butmir, there were concerns over whether the airport should continue to be expanded there or be moved to a new location in Sokolac. At the last minute, it was decided to expand the existing capacities. Interestingly, the works on the expansion of the airport started practically last (compared to other projects related to the Games), only a year before the start of the Olympics. It involved extending the runway by 200 meters to 2,600 meters, building a parallel taxiway, installing the instrument-landing system, extending the ramp, and constructing a brand-new terminal building with gates, a new control tower, and a new air traffic control building. The 8.000 square meter new terminal building was designed by Sarajevo design house "Dom" and architects Hasan Ćemalović and Nikola Nešković. It opened in January 1984. Sarajevo received a brand-new airport that was among the modern ones in the world in terms of equipment.



Construction of the new terminal B building » Grand opening

The unpredictability and bad weather that pervaded the area surrounding Sarajevo Airport throughout the winter months was the organisers' greatest concern. The level of uncertainty skyrocketed a few days prior to the opening of the Games when a snowstorm made it impossible for the main EX-YU airports to operate. Dubrovnik, Split, Mostar, Zagreb, and Belgrade would be the alternate airports in the event that Sarajevo Airport was closed. According to an report released by the news agency Tanjug on February 6, 1984, Sarajevo Airport was engulfed in fog during the morning hours, but it was soon cleared by the efficient application of chemical agents from the ground, allowing regular traffic to resume with little to no flight delays.

Between February 5 and February 20, a total of 630 aircraft touched down or took off, comprising of 581 charter flights and 49 scheduled flights. There were between fifty and seventy aircraft movements on certain days. The most significant event occurred on January 31 when a JAT DC-10, carrying 280 passengers, made its maiden landing in Sarajevo after a nonstop flight from Toronto. With the exception of this one from Canada, JAT performed seven charter flights using the DC-10, all of which connected Sarajevo and the Big Apple. Sarajevo Airport handled up to 32 aircraft, 14 of which had YU registrations on their fuselage, two days prior to the start of the Olympics on February 6. Simultaneously, two DC-8s that had arrived from Canada and the USA were parked on the platform next to the JAT DC-10 from New York. Despite the typical 90-minute turnaround time for this kind of aircraft at JAT, the JAT DC-10 was dispatched in record time in just 38 minutes thanks to the dedicated work of airport services, JAT services, with assistance from colleagues from Belgrade and Zagreb.



JAT ads for Sarajevo Olympic Games 1984

As the official carrier of the Olympics, JAT took significant steps to guarantee the seamless transfer of passengers to Sarajevo. The flight crews assigned to operate the DC-9, DC-10, and Boeing 727 aircraft were specifically trained on the simulator at JAT's training facility in Belgrade in order to land the aircraft at Sarajevo Airport in low visibility, before the Games began. On all international flights using DC-9 and B727 aircraft, the Adriatic class was introduced. To transfer passengers to and from Sarajevo Airport, thirty brand-new JAT "Sanos 15" buses were dispatched from Belgrade. The flight schedule was constantly adjusted, or equipment was upgraded due to increased demand. There were two daily flights from the capital, Belgrade, to Sarajevo, and the Cessna 340 was based at Sarajevo Airport for the air taxi service. Additionally, JAT ran a unique Olympic flight in which a Boeing 727 carried the Olympic Flame from Athens to Dubrovnik. In order to meet these requirements, the JAT maintenance division built a customised torch stand that was installed in the 727. The Olympics had an effect on JAT's operations as well; the airline saw a rise in passengers, particularly in intercontinental traffic, where there was a 52% increase. A few days prior to the start of the Games, Inex-Adria Avioproimet (Adria Airways) ceremoniously welcomed and based its two brand-new Dash-7 aircraft at Sarajevo Airport.

Deputy Manager of JAT's Sarajevo Office, Mesud Kazić, stepping down from the JAT B727 with Olympic Flame

As the official international airline of the Olympics, Pan American Airlines (Pan Am) launched daily flights from New York via Frankfurt to Sarajevo. Every evening, the Queen of Skies, a Boeing 747 departed from JFK for Frankfurt, where Pan Am operated Boeing 737-200s to Sarajevo, offering quick connections. Three times as a charter flight from the USA, Pan Am used the Clipper jet Lockheed L-1011 Tristar to Sarajevo, a first for one EX-YU city. Additionally, Pan Am used Boeing 737s to run extra flights from Frankfurt to the Olympic City. Pan Am carried 1,700 passengers into Sarajevo and 1,900 out of the city in total. It also opened a ticket office at the Holiday Inn hotel and ran a technical base of kind within the airport. The only other airline to land and take off from Sarajevo Airport in challenging weather conditions was Pan Am, along with JAT.

Pan Am Clipper jet Lockheed L-1011 Tristar and Pan Am ground team at Sarajevo Airport

Pan Am advertisement for Sarajevo Olympic Games 1984 in Japanese (Photo: Historical archive Sarajevo)

The airport performed perfectly during the final three days of the Olympics, as every passenger who had arrived in the days preceding the start of the Games now left the airport in literally three days. On the final day of the Games, more than 220 tons of luggage was handled, and about 14.000 people passed through airport’s gates without any delays, setting new records for the number of passengers. During the WOG '84, 46.710 passengers arrived at Sarajevo Airport via air; however, it should be noted that a number of official participants, visitors, and spectators took regular flights to Zagreb and Belgrade airports, from which they continued to Sarajevo.

Actor Kirk Douglas, arrived on JAT's DC10 from New York » Suzy Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney » Swedish Prince Bertil Bernadotte and Princess Lilian at Sarajevo Airport » Inex- Adria Dash-7 welcome ceremony » Soviet Olympic team disembarking Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-154

The entire aviation sector of the former Yugoslavia, including Sarajevo Airport and JAT, received top ratings for the effective running of all Olympic-related operations.

Special thanks to Pan American Museum


Comments

  1. Anonymous12:19

    Very nice read! Thank you

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous13:01

    Nice recall of this glorious event, good job! It was not easy at the time but it was manageable because we used to have everything in house and we didn't have to rely on the Vinci-s, Mensies...etc. Employees were motivated too and not like today when all they do is take care if their phone is online and connected.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous13:38

      +1000

      Delete
    2. Anonymous13:54

      Well, maybe employees had wages from which they could afford a decent life back then, hence their motivation

      Delete
    3. Anonymous15:01

      No wages were little despite all legends how they lived good in socialism. 80-90% on photo lived from cackalica and paid meals by their companies. Just gibberish from someone who wants to fly for peanuts with RA.

      Delete
    4. Anonymous16:29

      Different time and worldview, it was truly about "little things" in life, like family, friends, music, food etc. We should learn again how to cherish those things more.

      Delete
  3. Anonymous13:21

    I was unaware that our airports had ever used this method for clearing the fog

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous13:32

    They were able to clear the fog 40years ago, but not today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous14:46

      Progress!

      Delete
    2. Anonymous23:57

      TBF, Sarajevo hasn't had much fog this winter, but yeah, I understand your point.

      Delete
  5. Anonymous14:44

    Ahh lovely, vibrant and astonishing Sarajevo. Beautiful post and pictures! Thanks for sharing ❤️

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous14:51

    Lovely article, my mother worked for JAT in BEG at the time and was sent to SJJ during the Olympics and I remember her saying how crazy busy and wonderful it all was...

    ReplyDelete
  7. Such a hopeful period. Thank you for this look into the airline and airport operations. It is quite amazing how well it went. Sokolac is an hour from Sarajevo, are the weather conditions that much better there and do we know why they decided against moving the airport?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous17:16

      Probably due to the lack of money. Don't forget that in that period Yugoslavia was already in deep crisis. even in 1984, there were a shortage of fuel, so a lot of flights were canceled

      Delete
  8. Anonymous15:33

    Thank you for the article. Amazing job done at that time.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Anonymous15:35

    Excellent article. DjafteKurafte blog had similar story few months ago in anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the OI in Sarajevo. Bravo!!!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anonymous17:11

    Publishing photos of Olympic village and ruined Trebevic bob and ski jump just do not go with this fake news. Similar to the Athens Olympics 20 years latter https://www.theguardian.com/sport/gallery/2014/aug/13/abandoned-athens-olympic-2004-venues-10-years-on-in-pictures

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anonymous17:24

    one more outstanding article about fascinating events in the history of our aviation. Too bad there are no pics with dc10. Thank you EX-YU Aviation

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anonymous17:37

    slightly off topic (or maybe not) but looking at that YU map of how to reach Sarajevo one can only assume how precious the new Aegean SKP-SJJ-SKP flights are, how many borders you need to cross otherwise to get from the one to the other place :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous23:23

      Few years ago we drove from OHD to SJJ via Albania and Montenegro, unbearable border lines and bumpy roads.Approx. 500 km for 10 hours!
      BTW, Albania has better roads then these 3 ex-yu's.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous17:16

      Albania has two stretches of highway that are about as long as Doboj-Banja Luka and Bradina-Zenica/Vranduk highways in BiH. M-roads are better in B&H and don't have crazy intersections like in Albania, as someone who's there often

      Delete
  13. Anonymous18:45

    Loved these posters

    ReplyDelete
  14. Better world. Better times.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Anonymous19:37


    As far as I remember from the newspaper, on the same day that the JAT DDC10 landed at the airport, Luftica Airbus 300 or 310 landed. I don't think those big planes had ever landed at Butmir until then.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Anonymous10:17

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Anonymous12:47

    Once upon a time, all those sxxx holes were a country! Great post

    ReplyDelete
  18. Anonymous19:31

    I don’t remember any JAT DC-10s having white no 3/tail engine except OH-LHA (leased from Finnair later on) or having cheatlines under the windows. Was this meant to be the original colour schemes for the desetka?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous09:50

      In that color scheme, DC-10 was rolled out, and I suppose that the first flight is pictured. But then it was delivered in other colors. Why, I don't know. Maybe @exyu can help us with this doubt?

      Delete
    2. Anonymous11:34

      Perhaps it was a very good MDC artist mock-up because the film of the delivery flight and pictures of handover shows the blue engine and standard cheatlines. However, there is a picture of it with the white engine but standard cheatlines for the first test flight.

      Delete
    3. The image of the DC-10 displayed in promotional photos and posters prior to delivery was in JAT's original livery. Prior to the delivery of the first DC-10, the livery was tweaked in order for the entire tail to be in blue. Subsequently, the B737s and ATRs were delivered with this tail design. In 1990, JAT made additional changes to its livery (on the fuselage) and B727s and DC9s for the first time received the blue tail livery. However, since the country began to disintegrate, the new livery never made it onto all of its planes.

      Delete

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