Zagreb Airport: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

In the summer of 1943 the German Army started work on a 1.800-meter-long paved runway and a number of taxiways near the village of Pleso, not far from the town of Velika Gorica. In the spring of 1944, Pleso became the main airport for transit, overflights and the refuelling of German military aircraft on missions in the Balkan Peninsula. The airport had three hangars, a large area for storing aircraft, an ammunition warehouse, a fuel storage facility and an air defence unit. Pleso Airport was linked by taxiways to the runway in Kurilovec, which was 1.000 meters long and had already been used by the air force of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In the summer of 1944, German air force staff renovated and enlarged the hangar, workshops and warehouses in Kurilovec. Pleso Airport was taken over by the Yugoslav Army at the end of World War II. In the following years, the runway was overhauled and extended, with a parallel taxiway built. In 1958, the government ordered for the army vacate part of Pleso Airport for commercial traffic. A year later, a new passenger terminal was built and the surrounding area refurbished so that the airport could be registered for international civilian B category traffic.

In 1960, Zagreb Airport handled some 50.000 passengers, with numbers growing sharply over the next two years, as new routes were launched and larger aircraft came into use. In 1964, the small Zagreb Airport welcomed over 140.000 passengers, and the number grew to over 170.000 the following year. In 1966, the runway was extended by a further 364 meters to 2.864 meters, and was also widened to 45 meters. This made it possible for large aircraft to land, including the Boeing 707. Simultaneously, the taxiway was widened from 15 to 18.75 metres and the apron surface was extended to 60.000 square metres. A new administration building was constructed, including a control tower and a number of ancillary and infrastructure facilities.

In early 1967, four years after construction began, a new passenger terminal was opened, designed by architect Josip Uhlik, while the interior was designed by Bernardo Bernardi. The terminal was valued at 100 million new dinars (32 million German marks), with a further 800.000 spent on utilities, parking lots and work on the surrounding area. This marked the end of the first stage of construction work, as further expansion plans were drafted in September 1967. New shops and exchange offices were opened in the new terminal building.

By 1968, regular scheduled flights were run by local carriers and seven foreign ones, including Lufthansa, Swissair, KLM, Interflug, ČSA and LOT. Air France announced the opening of its own scheduled flight between Paris via Zagreb to Sofia for the following year, and Austrian Airlines started talks over the introduction of flights from Vienna to Belgrade via Zagreb. Passenger numbers grew 30% on an annual basis. Zagreb Airport was closed to traffic for two months in 1974, from June 24 to August 25 for runway extension. Flights were re-routed to Ljubljana Airport at Brnik and passengers were taken to Brnik by bus.

On December 16, 1978, Zagreb Airport handled its first McDonnell Douglas DC-10 aircraft, purchased by JAT which launched flights between Zagreb and New York. As passenger numbers grew, work on expanding the existing terminal began and was completed on April 22, 1981.

On September 26, 1981, a Qantas Boeing 747-100 landed for the first time in Zagreb on its way from Sydney to Frankfurt via Mumbai. It marked the jumbo jet's first visit to Zagreb Airport. Work on yet another expansion of the terminal building started in 1982, and continued in 1983. A new 4.000 sqaure metre area was annexed to the passenger terminal and a new building was built for the customs office. A modern cargo terminal was also constrcuted. The same year saw the start of construction of a new, state-of-the-art fire station and inflammable materials warehouse, new fire fighting vehicles were ordered, and a new air-conditioning system was purchased. the access roads were partly repaired and a new parking area was built, large enough for several hundred vehicles.

As Yugoslavia collapsed and Croatia declared its independence from the Federation, all commercial traffic was suspended at Zagreb Airport. Aeroflot became the first foreign company to land at Zagreb Airport following its reopening on April 1, 1991. The war that began to rage across Yugoslavia frequently disputed traffic at the airport in the coming years. Following the war, the airport began to grow again and Croatia Airlines established its base at the airport.

In 2012, a French-led consortium won a thirty-year concession of Zagreb Airport under the condition it builds a brand new terminal building, which had been planned for construction for over a decade. Work on the new facility began in May 2014. Following three years of construction, the new terminal was formally opened on March 21, 2017 and went into commercial use on March 28.


  1. Excellent read!

    Some interesting vids:


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