Nicosia International Airport: The Cypriot airport abandoned for 44 years

Nicosia International Airport: The Cypriot airport abandoned for 44 years
Dimitris Sideridis/CNN
Permanently grounded: A decomposing Cyprus Airways Trident Sun Jet passenger plane stands between the hangars and terminal building of Nicosia International Airport in Cyprus.

A large passenger jet sits silent and still on the edge of a sun-beaten track. It won’t fly again — its engines have been stripped down, its wings wrecked and weathered by time.

Nearby, shafts of sunlight pass through the smashed windows of a cavernous hangar. Everything is covered in dust and rust, a jumble of barbed wire, broken glass and sprouting weeds.

On this part of Europe’s last divided capital, time has long been frozen.

Frozen in time

For the past 44 years, the once vibrant and state-of-the-art Nicosia International Airport has remained shut, a fading and painful travel relic of the turbulent history of Cyprus.

The Mediterranean island country has effectively been divided since the summer of 1974.

Cyprus, a former British colony, became independent in 1960. Over the years, tensions rose between the Greek Cypriot majority and Turkish Cypriot minority. In 1974, the government of Greece sponsored an attempt to overthrow the elected president of Cyprus. Turkey responded with military intervention and soon controlled more than a third of the island.

The division persists to this day, with a United Nations-patroled buffer zone cutting across the island, splitting the Turkish Cypriot north from the Greek Cypriot south.

Desolate and eerily empty, the airport sits inside the buffer zone, also known as the green line.

Its access to the public is heavily restricted as it forms part of the wider complex housing the headquarters of the UN’s peacekeeping force on the island.

This is a far cry from its earlier days. After decades of being used mostly for military purposes, Nicosia International Airport was officially inaugurated in 1968, with the addition of a modern terminal building boasting high-tech facilities and a multitude of restaurants and shops.

Former transport hub

Built to become a major tourism and transport hub in eastern Mediterranean, the airport would welcome robust trade in the coming years. By 1973, it had reportedly served nearly 800,000 passengers. But its bustling life was abruptly cut short.

During the 1974 crisis, Nicosia International Airport became one of the main targets of the Turkish army. and commercial activity was terminated.

A series of air raids were launched on the site, followed by heavy and deadly fighting in its vicinity between Turkish and Greek forces.

UN troops eventually intervened, and when ceasefire lines were drawn in mid-August 1974, the airport was declared a UN Protected Area and became part of the buffer zone.

Deserted aircraft

A new airport, Larnaca International Airport (LCA), was opened in the Republic of Cyprus in 1975 following the closure of Nicosia, while Paphos International Airport (PFO) followed in 1983.

In 1977, the very last commercial flights left the airport under UN Special Authorization, when a trio of aircraft, stranded since the 1974 invasion, was flown to London.

But to this day, a beaten-down Cyprus Airways Trident Sun Jet passenger plane stands motionless between the decaying hangars and terminal building.

According to the UN, the plane’s engines were stripped during the 1974 events and used to repair another jet for flight.

Long abandoned, the airport complex has been used as one of the sites for the launch of intercommunal talks in the efforts to find a solution on the island’s impasse over the years and acts as the headquarters for the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.

But as long as peace remains elusive, the airport’s crumbling walls and deserted landscape will only serve as a stark emblem of the island’s decades-long division.