Nicosia International Airport was the main airport on the island of Cyprus up until the war in 1974. A coup supported by Greece led Turkey to invade the north of the island to protect the Turkish minority living there and protect democracy. Since then, the island has been divided and all efforts to reunite the divided community have failed. Many of the buildings in the UN Buffer Zone between the two sides were abandoned and have been decaying since the war. Talks continue to try bring the two communities in Cyprus together but even over 40 years later, they remain divided and suspicious of each other.
The airport in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia was built in the 1930s as RAF Nicosia as the island was under British control at the time. At first, it acted mainly as a military airport and is still owned by the British Ministry of Defence. The runway was constructed in 1939 by the Shell Company and Pierides & Michaelides Ltd. Some civilian traffic served British interests in the region up until the outbreak of World War II. During the war, the facilities were expanded and both British and American bombers used the facility.
The first passenger terminal was built after the war in 1949. Regular services were operated by Misrair, BOAC, Cyprus Airways and MEA to destinations in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The terminal and aprons were extended in 1959 as passenger traffic to the island grew. Cyprus gained its independence from the UK in 1960.
In 1968, the RAF withdrew their operations, leaving RAF Nicosia to become solely Nicosia International Airport. A new terminal designed by the West German company Dorsch und Gehrmann opened in 1968. The British contributed nearly half of the cost of the new terminal. The old building remained in use as a base for The Nicosia Flying Club and other such organisations.
Plans were put in place to expand the apron to accommodate more aircraft, including widebody jets however this was never to occur. A coup on 15 July 1974 ousted the president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios. The right wing Greek nationalists leading the coup ceased Nicosia International Airport and closed it for a number of days. When they reopened it on July 18th, there was chaos as stranded holiday makers and foreign nationals tried to escape from Cyprus. On July 20th, Turkey invaded the island to protect the Turkish Cypriot population and caused extensive damage to the runway.
A ceasefire was negotiated between the two sides in August 1974 and Nicosia International Airport became part of the UN Buffer Zone which divided the southern Greek Cyprus from the Northern Turkish Cyprus. It remains in the UN Buffer Zone to this day and acts as an administrative base for the UN in Cyprus, UNFICYP. Access to the Buffer Zone is limited for peoples from both sides with a lot of what lay in the strip of land dividing the island left as it was in 1974. Nicosia International Airport is one such place. The legendary ghost town of Varosha has also remained abandoned and closed off from the public since the 1974 invasion.
A Turkish Cypriot proposal to reopen the airport under joint control in 1975 was rejected by Archbishop Makarios. In 1977, three Cyprus Airways aircraft were flown out by British Airways engineers after being abandoned there since the invasion. No other commercial aircraft have taken off or landed at the airport since.
The lack of public access to Nicosia Airport means that international airports are now located in Paphos and Larnaca catering both for the Cypriot population and large number of tourists who visit the island annually. Ercan International Airport also serves the population on the northern part of the island but is in territory that forms part of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and as such is not recognised by the international community. Flights from the North of the island are only to permitted to Turkey and often connect via airports there to other destinations.
It has been suggested that the airport may be reopened as part of the reunification negotiations however, so far there has been little progress in that regard. With three airports capable of handling international traffic, it is likely that any reunification agreement between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities will instead make use of Paphos, Larnaca and Ercan, leaving Nicosia International Airport