The Nicosia International Airport

The Nicosia International Airport (IATA: NIC, ICAO: LCNC) began service as Royal Air Force Station, Nicosia, and saw heavy use during the Second World War. It opened as a commercial airport two years after the end of the War, in 1947, but the area surrounding the airport itself remained the location for the Air Station. After Cyprus gained independence in 1960, the airport and its surrounding area were transferred to the Cyprus Government. The RAF continued to occupy part of the site, known as the RAF Nicosia Retained Site: this British “retained site” status gave the United Kingdom the right to exercise exclusive control over the designated area in an emergency. In addition, three former RAF camps close to the airport shared facilities with UNFICYP after the Force’s establishment in March 1964.The airport facilities were expanded with a new terminal building in 1968, German-designed and Cypriot-built. It was hailed for the stylish modernity of its design. It was elegant and uncluttered with shafts of sunlight streaming through large circular wells in the ceiling. The runways served both military and civilian aircraft, and by July 1974, Nicosia International Airport was welcoming a strong tourism trade.

With increasing numbers of holidaymakers flying in to Nicosia airport on Cyprus Airways and other carriers, plans were announced in June 1974 to expand the terminal and platform again. On 15 July 1974, Greek National Guard officers staged a military coup d’état. For the next four days, the airport was kept busy with commercial flights arriving to evacuate civilians which were primarily tourists. On 20 July, Turkish forces, responding to the Greek coup, launched a series of air raids on the airport. On 23 July, fighting between Turkish and Greek forces was especially fierce in the airport vicinity. The Force Commander at that time, General Prem Chand from India, ordered UNFICYP to take over the airport, declaring it a United Nations Protected Area (UNPA). United Nations Headquarters in New York gave its immediate approval, and, with the agreement of the local military commanders of both sides, UNFICYP troops (from Canada, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom) occupied the airport This required both sides to withdraw at least 500 meters from the perimeter of the airport. With the ceasefire signed on 16 August 1974 Nicosia Airport became part of the United Nations controlled Buffer Zone separating the two communities on the island, and it has been inoperable as a fully functioning airport ever since.

Time and weather have led to some structural deterioration to the terminal building and to the Cyprus Airways Trident Sunjet passenger plane resting beside it: the plane’s engines were stripped during the crisis in 1974, and used to repair another Cyprus Airways airplane to enable the latter plane to fly out. The last commercial airline flights out of Nicosia Airport took place in 1977 under UN Special authorization, when three of the remaining Cyprus Airways aircraft left on the tarmac since the 1974 events were retrieved by British Airways engineers and flown to London.

During the mid-nineties the re-opening Nicosia airport featured prominently in various UN-facilitated initiatives over the decades. The aim was to establish Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) between the island’s two communities. An agreement appeared to be close in 1994 foreseeing the reopening of the airport with access free between the airport and both sides. The United Nations agreed that the airport could be reopened for civilian and cargo traffic, under UN administration, in cooperation with the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), until the Cyprus problem was settled. Traffic rights would be limited to foreign airlines, including those registered in Turkey. There would be free access from both sides and foreign visitors entering Nicosia airport would be able to travel between the two sides.

The cost for the restoration of the Nicosia International Airport operational and of its administration, operation and security, would have been borne locally in an agreed manner. Local sources of revenue would have included taxation, customs duties on imports at points of entry to the fenced area and at Nicosia International Airport and concession fees at Nicosia International Airport.

However, as the process evolved, the fenced area of the city of Varosha nearby Famagusta (which was only a small part of the whole city and comprised some four kilometers north-south and about one-and-a-half kilometer east-west) and the Nicosia airport again emerged as key obstacles for a tentative agreement. Despite a last-ditch effort in October 1994 to retain the momentum around the CBMs, other issues had clearly intruded on the negotiating process, which was supposed to have been based on a minimalist document containing a set of specific measures. Collapse of the CBMs had broad ramifications for peacemaking in Cyprus.