The History of Nicosia Airport

The Airport Grows

Nicosia Airport continued to be used for both civil and RAF military flights with the Control Tower staffed exclusively by British military controllers.
After independence, eight Cypriots were sent for air traffic control training and by 1963 had replaced their British counterparts.



The control tower showing British and Cypriot controllers (pre-1964).....notice that only two of the original three runways are operational

Aircraft using the Nicosia FIR (Flight Information Region) were controlled by the Air Traffic Control Centre situated a few hundred metres north of the terminal facilities and the airfield control tower. This centre was also exclusively manned by RAF personnel who were also replaced by the end of 1964.
In 1960, the number of flights through the Nicosia FIR was 32,637.



The Air Traffic Control Centre managed flights using the Nicosia FIR

Seven international airlines operated scheduled flights into Nicosia carrying 147,000 passengers and there were a further 6,615 freight flights.
On the 5th April 1960, BEA introduced the de Havilland Comet 4B on the Nicosia, Athens, Rome and London routes, becoming the first airline in the region to use jets.



The Comet was a great source of interest for spectators......click the image or this link for a larger version

From 1961 the resident fighter unit was 43 Squadron flying Hawker Hunters (FGA.9).



Pilots of 43Sqn in front of a Hunter FGA.9
Image courtesy of the excellent www.radfanhunters.co.uk


The Station Commander at the time was Group Captain John (Pat/Paddy) Campbell (who had taken over command of RAF Nicosia from 'Mick' Martin of Dambuster fame) and in March 1963 the resident squadron moved to Aden.



43 Sqn departing Nicosia for Aden on March 1st 1963 (note the drop tanks fitted)
Click the image or this link for the full width photograph
An image showing the departing 43sqn pilots (with names) can be viewed by clicking this link
RAF Official Crown Copyright image via Mike Campbell


The replacement for the departing 43Sqn was 29Sqn equipped with Gloster Javelins.



A Gloster Javelin of 29Sqn arriving at RAF Nicosia
RAF Official Crown Copyright image via Mike Campbell


On March 1st 1963, RAF Nicosia received a full Station Inspection by Air Chief Marshal Sir Denis Barnett (Chief Near East Air Force and Commander British Forces Cyprus).



Sir Denis Barnett, the Guard Commander and Group Captain Campbell inspect the RAF Regiment at RAF Nicosia.........March 1st 1963
RAF Official Crown Copyright image via Mike Campbell




The fly past of 70Sqn Hastings aircraft with the Air Chief Marshal's Sycamore helicopter in the background
RAF Official Crown Copyright image via Mike Campbell




A remarkable image of the RAF Regiment and the fly past of 29Sqn's Javelins..........March 1st 1963
Click the image or this link to view a larger version
RAF Official Crown Copyright image via Mike Campbell


After a successful inspection, the Air Chief Marshal departs in his Sycamore helicopter.



Group Captain Campbell and Wing Commander Blakeman salute the departing Air Chief Marshal
RAF Official Crown Copyright image via Mike Campbell


Despite the inter-communal troubles that began in December 1963 (when, for a short period, the Javelins were moved to RAF Akrotiri) the airport continued to attract new civilian users and, on the 28th February 1964, Aeroflot was added to the growing list of airlines.



A very large and extremely enthusiastic crowd welcomed the Soviet airliner (an Ilyushin Il-18) and its passengers & crew
Click the image or this link for a larger version


RAF Nicosia was very busy during this period (Dec 63-Mar 64) with the British Truce Force HQ being based here for several weeks and then the setting up of the UN Flight in March 1964..........see Military Histories....The Green Line for more information.
The UN were supported by RAF Sycamores & Whirlwinds are well as fixed-wing Austers and Beavers.



A British soldier fills AVGAS containers with a UN Beaver (and RAF transport aircraft) in the background 
(Image courtesy of Tony Law)


The 1966 British Defence Review announced the closure of RAF Nicosia and military flying due to the huge growth of commercial flights.
Most areas were handed back to the Cyprus Government shortly afterwards but the RAF held on to several small retained sites with the former 79 OTU buildings remaining as UNFICYP HQ. Also in 1966, the UN Flight became an established unit operating only helicopters (the fixed-wing assets were withdrawn).

On the 20th April 1967 there was a sad conclusion to this period of the airport's development.
A Bristol Britannia (HB-ITB) operated by Globe Air was bringing tourists back from Bangkok to Basel in Switzerland.
The crew diverted the flight to Nicosia due to bad weather at Cairo.
The aircraft was on its third attempt to land on Runway 32 in a violent thunderstorm when it flew into the ground near the village of Lakatamia and burst into flames. 117 passengers and 9 crew were killed but four people miraculously survived.



The images show the aircraft in happier days at Schiphol in 1965 and the wreckage on the ground near Lakatamia

The capacity of the existing terminal buildings at Nicosia Airport was limited and rather primitive in both appearance and facilities offered.
It was decided therefore that a new terminal was required in order to manage the rapidly increasing number of airlines and passengers using Nicosia.



This excellent picture of the airport was taken in 1967. The civilian terminal buildings can be seen as well as several parked aircraft
The Nissen huts towards the bottom right corner are the RAF Air Movement buildings with the military parking apron above (centre right)
Click the image or this link for a larger version