Prague Airport celebrates 70th birthday

04-04-2007

Welcome to Prague Airport located just east of the capital. All it takes is a thirty-minute metro and bus ride from the centre of Prague to get to a place which connects the Czech capital with the rest of the world. Where there were fields just a few decades ago, you get off the bus in the middle of a steel and glass airport city. It's hard to believe that the history of the Prague airport goes back seventy years.

Eva Krejci is the airport's spokesperson.

"It all began 70 years ago, on April 5th 1937 at what was then Prague Ruzyne Airport which was located south of here. It's today's South Terminal. The first aircraft to land here was a Douglas DC-2 on a 9-am domestic flight from Piestany to Prague via Zlin and Brno. An hour later the first foreign company made a landing here. It was an Air France flight on its Vienna-Prague-Dresden route. While at that time, the number of passengers in one year was in the thousands, today we count in millions. In 2006, more than 11.5 million people used our airport and we assume that in 2020, it will be 20 million passengers."

I'm standing on a new lookout terrace which is part of the new Terminal North just as a Czech Airlines Boeing is slowly coming to a stop. Unfortunately I can only see a small part of the runway as new airport buildings block the view.

"The oldest part of the airport is today's South Terminal where the flights of state officials take off. The newest parts are North Terminal 1 and North Terminal 2. The latter was finished last year. It was an ambitious project which enables us to process a large number of passengers from the Schengen zone. Prague Airport is something we call an airport city. Apart from the terminals and two runways, there are many hotels, shops, refreshment spots, parking spaces and so on."

You would hardly tell that this state-of-the-art compound is celebrating 70 years. Eva Krejci of Prague Airport.

"Of course, we are preparing a birthday party. Seventy is a venerable age. But our airport is not some frail old man - we are a modern international airport. Close to our lookout terrace we are opening an exhibition on the history and present-day development of the airport. People can see period photographs and documents as well as a model of an historic aircraft. We will also have an exhibition of modern airport equipment and machinery. On April 5th we will start building the largest mosaic in the world which will partly be a charity project."

I was enjoying the fact I wasn't flying anywhere and could hang out around the airport, look at the new shops and watch passengers of all nationalities getting ready for their flights or breathing in the air of a new country for the first time.

"The hot news in our summer flight schedule will be direct flights from Prague to Atlanta, USA. In all we have 120 direct connections, the newest ones being Burgas in Bulgaria and Poprad in the High Tatras in Slovakia. Thursday is the busiest day at our airport. The busiest connections are London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Moscow. The destinations with the highest growth in the number of passengers are Milan, Rome, Budapest, Dublin and Brussels. The favourite destination is Great Britain. In the past year over a million passengers flew from or to Britain."

A lot has changed in terms of security since the pioneering days of civil aviation, notably in the last six years. Eva Krejci, spokeswoman of Prague Airport.

"Security is an important feature of any airport. For us it is essential to combine comfort and services for passengers with security measures and make sure the measures cause them as little inconvenience as possible. Our security measures, of course, are just the same as those at all international airports in the European Union."

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK But it is not always people with bad intentions that can put passengers in dangers. Small animals on the runway or birds flying over airports can cause tragedies. For that reason, Prague Airport employs its own falconers.

"Prague Airport has its own breeding station. We have twelve hawks, ten falcons and two golden eagles and they make sure that aircraft and the airport are not threatened by wild birds and mammals."

If you'd like to find out more about Prague's Ruzyne airport, you can go to their website www.prg.aero where you can also register for excursions to the underbelly of the airport where ordinary citizens do not have regular access and where visitors can get a look "behind the scenes" at how a major international airport is run.

Tomorrow, on April 5th celebrations will get underway at Prague Airport to mark the 70th anniversary of the first landing at Ruzyne. So Happy Birthday, Prague Airport!

04-04-2007