August 18, 2022

Margaret Sheard and Derek Chilvers in front of Nicosia International Airport on a CyprusScene visit in 2013

Cyprus’s other airports might be developing, but the so called ghost airport still welcomes some visitors.

By Oz Orman….

I wrote the following article before visits to the National Archives in London and the establishment of proven research and historical resources on the Internet.

Abandoned Catering Facilities inside the main terminal at N.I.C. Photo Courtesy of Oz Orman

As a keen aviation enthusiast and lover of all things Cyprus. I was enthralled when the introduction of ‘Google Earth’ on the Internet allowed me to peer first time at satellite imagery of the defunct Nicosia International Airport (NIC). It wasn’t as straight forward as I’d hoped for, as only part of the airport was clearly identifiable. Other sections around the site were layered and pixelated and not as clear. This was some time ago, before the World Wide Webs growing popularity. However, it took a patient year before the airport was revealed to the world and I could piece together its runways, taxiways and facilities.

As a young child on journeys out of the capital heading towards Güzelyurt (Morphou) in the west of the island.  I would look out of the car window and identify the abandoned terminal in the distance. It would only appear for a matter of moments as the main road west deviated away from the airport. I would question relatives about it and its past. Their memories were sketchy, but I was intrigued and hooked and wanted to find out as much as possible about NIC.

The Background…

The airport sits on the West side of the divided capital city and has sat dormant and abandoned since hostilities on Cyprus ended in August 1974. The other main airports on Cyprus at Larnaca, Paphos and Ercan (East of Nicosia) have seen rapid development and growth since then. It appears that any hopes of re-establishing NIC as the primary gateway into Cyprus have rescinded as peace talks between the Turkish and Greek communities have stalled yet again. As part of any final settlement of the Cyprus Problem, Nicosia International Airport would’ve possibly have received a second coming. However, there appears to be reluctance in many parties on opposite sides of the Green Line to re-impose NIC’s previous dominance in Cypriot Aviation circles. As well as the huge cost it would take to bring the airport back up to International standards again. Housing and industrial development at the end of one of the approaches to the main runway at the airport has deemed such a scheme unlikely in the future. For now the United Nations keep watch on the decaying façade and facilities, as the main apron has given way to the blue helmets very own go-kart track. Only UN Helicopter flights depart from NIC these days, and any signs of any civilian air traffic returning are purely installed in the past.

However, the Internet does reveal that though there is no civilian aircraft movement at Nicosia. Remnants of past glories do remain. On the far side of the airport on a secluded apron and near a decaying hangar lies the rusting carcass of the fabled Cyprus Airways Trident Sun Jet (5B-DAB). It is surrounded by barbed wire with cracked windows, a faded paint scheme caused by inactivity since 1974 and the effects of the Mediterranean sun. The flaps on the wings are stationary and engine cowlings lifeless. Its only company is the weeds that have pierced the tarmac, with the wind echoing through the rusting fuselage. It truly is a sad sight, but is a reflection of the lack of movement on the Cyprus issue.

Turkish forces attacked the airport during its initial landing on the beleaguered island in 1974 and one of the first casualties was the Cyprus Airways fleet at Nicosia. The remaining Cyprus Airways Trident, also provides a photographic backdrop for UN personnel stationed on the island. Nearby, but not as lucky as (5B-DAB) or as recognisable, is the destroyed remains of another HS-121 Trident 1E (5B-DAE). It has been left entombed on the ground with its pieces like a broken jigsaw puzzle scorched and twisted. Although the Cyprus Airways fleet disintegrated during the fighting. The airport is allegedly also the permanent home of four downed Greek Air Force Nord 2501 Noratlas’ which were shot down and destroyed by unsuspecting Greek forces on the ground at NIC. The Greeks believing them to be the Turkish Air Force attacked the planes, as they approached and landed in chaotic scenes at the airport. It was a disaster for all involved and ‘Operation NIKI’ as it was called was thwarted before it began. The Greeks had hoped that by landing a squadron of planes from mainland Greece (354 Transport Squadron ‘Pegasus’) it would be able to support Greek Commando forces on the ground. However, this never came to fruition and although some planes did make it down, it is rumored that the wreckage of the others possibly still remain somewhere in the airport’s perimeter.  

1968-1974

Nicosia International Airport started life as RAF Nicosia in the 1930’s when Britain was a dominant power on the World stage. The U.K. quit the airport in 1966 with the rise of civilian traffic and moved her operations to other parts of the island, namely RAF Akrotiri on the south side. With the pressures of military movements no longer a factor, a new terminal building was opened in 1968 and optimism was high with Cyprus Airways establishing Trident jet links to places in Europe. However six years later the airport ceased to operate as infighting between factions within the Greek and Greek Cypriot community saw President Makarios overthrown and then within days Turkish mainland troops had arrived. The blame game began and has continued ever since with NIC becoming a relic to 60’s engineering and 70’s fashion.

The terminal is still intact though a gutted shell and access to the airport is prohibited. Greek and Turkish forces patrol and guard the link roads and any photography is prohibited, well so I thought. You can visit the airport with special permission from the U.N. and many have done so. As much as Varosha is an ode to ‘Dark Tourism’. Nicosia International is another time capsule remnant of the Cyprus crisis of the mid 1970’s. Chairs in the departure and arrivals lounges lie vacant and covered with bird faeces. The Duty Free shops are guarded by broken wooden shutters that protect empty and dusty shelves. The Passport control booths still stand, but await nonexistent passengers. Old posters depicting scenes of Cyprus in 1974 flop outside their hoardings. Telephone kiosks are missing their phones and it seems that anything worth saving or having has been removed. Shattered glass lay exactly where they fell and it appears that the UN remit doesn’t include cleaning the airport. It’s a throwback to another time. I’ve heard stories that cups and newspapers lie exactly where they were left back in 1974 as their owners made a hasty retreat as the fighting engulfed the airport. The mixture of Greek and English signs directing you around the building are still evident, but go nowhere now. As of 2022, the main terminal has been condemned and is considered structural unsafe after nearly 50 years of non-maintenance.

CyprusScene visit to Nicosia International Airport in 2013

The control tower is a collection of broken glass and missing dials. It directs imaginary and ghost planes now and houses pigeons. Dead birds now litter the area and in the distance runway approach lights stand rusting in the unrelenting Mediterranean summers and provide photo opportunities for anyone brave enough to venture into the farmlands that surround the airport. Shepherds and their flocks pass through, carefully watched by armed forces from both sides of the divide.

Nowadays, the elements and wildlife are in control, the sign over the terminal building telling you where you are is faded and has letters missing. The car park and surrounding roads is a mass of overgrown and dominant foliage, it would take years to clear the mess up, but have Cypriots actually got the resolve. The UN saw the possible opening of the airport as a goodwill gesture between both communities, but it lies like a ticking chess piece waiting for someone to make the right move. Hopefully its time will come again, but in what capacity, who knows?

*The attached video draws on research from the National Archives focusing on what happens to a country when it loses its main airport. Part 2 to follow…

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