One airport that can certainly lay claim to being first commercial airport was Le Bourget near Paris. In the United States, the Newark International Airport has grounds to make its declaration.
Nearly 100 years ago, commercial aviation began springing up around the world. Upper-class Americans, Europeans and businessmen began to sign on for the 12- and 17-passenger short and uncomfortable flights. This newfound mode of transportation brought them to their destination more quickly than rail service could promise.
With those flights came the need for commercial airports. Much discussion and debate will no doubt reign over the next few years as we enter the second century of commercial aviation, with airports throughout the world staking claim to the title of "first."
The Military Factor
Like many aviation developments throughout the century, the first commercial airport likely sprung from the military. One airport that can certainly lay claim to being first was Le Bourget near Paris. Here, as at so many other airports, facilities began to be built to accommodate the new passenger traffic.
During World War II, many commercial airports were taken over for military operations. However, another of the earliest commercial airports worldwide was never used solely for military purposes. The Tempelhof Airport in Berlin was open during World War II but was never used by the Nazis for war operations. The airport was decommissioned in 2008 and has been transformed into Berlin's largest park. It still boasts the third largest building in the world, the former airport terminal.
An International Affair
Many of the facilities claiming to be the first commercial airport are overseas. In the United States, the Newark International Airport has grounds to make its declaration. The airfield was built in 1928, and Amelia Earhart dedicated the terminal building in 1935. In its early days, Newark International was
the busiest airport in the world. Officials boast of being home to many of the nation's aviation firsts, including:
- First passenger terminal
- First paved runway
- First air traffic control tower
- First runway with lighting
- First airport weather stations
By 1939, Newark was the nation's busiest airport, handling 481,000 passengers — a huge number at that time.
Other commercial airports firsts:
- Miami International Airport, built in 1928 and home to startup airlines Pan Am and Eastern
- Taliedo Airport in Milan, Italy, which traces back to the 1910s
- Flughafen Devau, near what was then Konigsberg, East Prussia, built from 1919-1921
- S. Darius and S. Girenas Airport in Kaunas, Lithuania, which opened in 1915
- Croydon Airport in South London, which started air traffic control in 1921
- Sydney Airport in Australia claims to be the world's oldest continuously operating airport, with its opening flights tracing to 1920
No matter who was first, commercial aviation has evolved significantly in the past century. As the next generation of jumbo jets takes off and airlines test new ways to lure and satisfy passengers, the industry will see a new wave of evolution in technology and travel.
In 1910, flying boats landed and departed from the port of Southampton, England. The mayor then named this facility an "air-port."