2017 marked the 90th anniversary of the opening of the now mostly forgotten, Belgrade
International Airport, which was located next to the old Austro-Hungarian village of
Bežanija, in what is now New Belgrade.
This airport, however, was not the first airfield serving the city. The first airplane to fly from Belgrade took off in Banjica in 1910, close to where VMA, the military hospital complex, now stands.
After Banjica, there was another airfield below the Belgrade Fortress, next to
the old hammam and yet another in Pancevo, which worked between 1923 and 1927 and
was used on the air route connecting Paris to Istanbul.
After four years of construction, the Belgrade’s first modern airport was opened with great pomp in March 1927, on the outskirts of a booming and rapidly modernising city. Back then it had four runways and its concrete hangars were designed by Milutin Milankovic, a Serbianscientist famous for his contributions to astronomy.
The new airport’s opening coincided with the launch of the first Yugoslav airline, Aeroput,whose CEO, Tadija Sondermajer, pulled a publicity stunt for the company shortly after theopening of the airport, and flew all the way from Paris to Mumbai and back to Belgrade’s new airport in April 1927.
The new airport grew steadily with the development of the air travel, connecting Belgrade with other Yugoslav and European cities. The first commercial flight of Aeroput, connectedBelgrade and Zagreb, while soon there were regular routes to Vienna, Tirana, Prague, Bucharest, Milan, Thessaloniki, Venice and other cities. To reflect this boom, the airport was expanded with a modern terminal building in 1931, and received sophisticated equipment in 1936 which allowed traffic in lower visibility conditions.
The good times came to an end in April 1941, when the Nazi’s first bombed Belgrade.
Bezanija was the base of the Yugoslav pilots who valiantly but tragically defended Belgrade against the much more powerful enemy. After sustaining great damage in this first attack, it was rebuilt to serve the needs of the occupation forces, which made it a target for many Allied air raids. In 1944, the Nazi’s blew up the airport during their retreat from Belgrade.
After WWII, the airport was reconstructed and put to use once again as Yugoslavia’s main airline hub. The airport was slowly surrounded with construction of New Belgrade, until in 1963 a new airport was opened in the suburb of Surčin, and Bežanija was no longer used.
After the move, most of the remnants of the airport were destroyed, and now the only
original airport building is one of Milanovic’s hangars. The concrete runways were blow up to make way for the Belgrade-Zagreb high way and new boulevards, while much of its former area is dotted with office buildings that are part of Airport City, a development
whose name retains the memory of Belgrade’s first real airport.
Like aviation history? Check this story about Ikarus, Belgrade’s airplane factory
A version of this article first appeared in Belgrade Insight