Cyprus Aviation History – Part 3
The History of Ercan Airport
Introduction by Margaret Sheard….
Most of us who have chosen North Cyprus as our new homeland and those who come and go on a regular basis, will be familiar with Ercan Airport which, following its recent upgrade, is a credit to the country and a pleasure to travel from when making those visits back to the UK and other countries.
One piece of information we heard some time ago was from a Turkish Cypriot friend who told us he was involved in the laying of a new runway back in the 1970’s. The crew worked day and night on a shift basis to complete the work as quickly as possible and laughingly he said he was told he was to be on the first flight from Ercan using the new runway.
In his series of articles covering Cyprus Aviation History, Captain Emre Unel has given us some very interesting information about the history of Ercan Airport.
The History of Ercan Airport
By Captain Emre Unel….
LCEN ERCAN AIRPORT, CYPRUS
Ercan Airport was originally a British Royal Air Force base built during the second world war known as RAF Tymbou Aerodrome.
Aircraft stationed there were mainly Spitfire and Hurricane fighter planes as a defence against the German Luftwaffe.
During the war the airfield was repeatedly bombed by the Germans. My father once told me that the RAF hid away their fighter planes and substituted them on the airfield with wood and canvas versions so it seems while the German bombers were supposedly destroying the RAF, they were in fact bombing dummy wooden planes.
With the opening of a new airfield at Nicosia shortly after the war (RAF Nicosia) Tymbou was abandoned.
However during the 1956 Suez Crisis Tymbou was again activated and used by the British and French Air Forces as a transport base supplying troops in Egypt.
The below link shows you a historic 8mm film shot in 1956 at RAF Tymbou when the airfield was used by French and British air forces during the Suez Crisis. You can see below Nord Atlas transports carrying French paratroopers.
After the Suez Crisis the airfield was once again abandoned and remained unused until early 1975.
In the meantime Cyprus had gained independence from British rule in 1960. Years of political strife and unrest between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities on the island followed.
The resulting Turkish invasion led to the division of the island into two separate areas, the north Turkish Cypriot, the south Greek Cypriot.
The country’s only airport Nicosia International (LCNC) was lost and ever since lies abandoned in the UN Buffer zone separating the two territories.
Following the war, one of the most urgent tasks was to re-establish air links between the island and the outside world. The Greek Cypriots built a new airport at Larnaca (LCLK) on the site of another former RAF base.
The Turkish Cypriots made use of former RAF Tymbou Airfield which was now on their territory. The airfield’s two old RAF runways were patched up enabling smaller aircraft to land and take off. A makeshift pre fabricated passenger terminal was built.
Tymbou was now renamed as Ercan (LCEN) after a Turkish Air Force fighter pilot who had lost his life during the conflict.
With no navigation aids or runway lighting, flying was restricted to daytime visual flight conditions only. The only passenger jet able to land at that time was the Fokker F-28 which was an aircraft especially designed for rough and short runways. Turkish Airlines started operating with these jets in February 1975 flying to and from Ercan. Initial flights were from/to Istanbul, Ankara and Adana.
By 1976 an ambitious expansion project was started. The main runway 11/29 was completely re-built to accommodate the big jets of the time DC-9, Boeing 707, 727 etc. Navigation aids (VOR/DME and NDBs) were installed and so was lighting, enabling round the clock operations. An ILS (Instrument Landing System) was also put into operation a few years ago.
By 1978 the airport was expanded and boasted a new 2755m runway plus a new passenger terminal. The terminal building was a smaller copy of Nicosia International.
The above photos were taken by myself during an early afternoon in August 1978 with a Yashica camera.
Amongst interesting airlines serving the airport was SABENA with Boeing 737-200 for a short time and various foreign cargo companies with DC-8, B707 exporting agricultural products and live stock such as sheep to Saudi Arabia.
Newly established Cyprus Turkish Airlines (KTHY) flew on its scheduled routes to Turkey with a Boeing 720 (smaller version of the Boeing 707) leased from U.S. company AERO AMERICA.
Aero America was based at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington and specialized in wet lease to other carriers.
The KTHY Boeing 720 was crewed by American flight deck crews and Turkish Cypriot cabin crews.. The aircraft was configured to 149 economy seats. Maintenance was done in Tel Aviv, Israel.
In later years KTHY flew with aircraft leased from Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa until eventually establishing its own fleet.
Aircraft flown were Boeing 727’s, Boeing 737’s, MD90, Airbus 310 and Airbus 321.
Istanbul Airlines was a private airline which also contributed a lot to the development of the airport during the late 1980s and 1990s.
The airline built a maintenance hangar to the south of the main runway and operated many flights initially with SE210 Caravelle jets, later Boeing 727s and 737s.
Over the years Ercan Airport was continuously developed. Today Ercan, although not officially recognized by ICAO because of the political situation on the island, is a small but busy modern airport served by many Turkish carriers.
Emre spent a lot of time as a teenager “plane spotting” at Nicosia International Airport and he has given us the link to a beautiful computerised re-creation of the airport in 1968 so you might like to sit back and enjoy.
To see previous articles about Cyprus Aviation History the links are as follows:-
Cyprus Aviation History Part 1 – click here
Cyprus Aviation History Part 2 – The story of the last Cyprus Airways Trident to land at Nicosia International Airport on the morning of July 20th 1974 – click here