White Sand to Clear Sky: Croatia’s Ambitious Aviation Industry

Airports & Airlines
Ahmed El Dahan
min read
July 6, 2021

Croatia continues to expand its aviation network with its nine main international airports, a powerful flag carrier and a pool of charter airlines. Eways Aviation examines the air-transport facilities of the country as it prepares to welcome its annual stream of tourists.

Zagreb Franjo Tuđman Airport

The new international terminal at Zagreb Airport was inaugurated on March 21, 2016

Operational since 1962 this airport is located near the town of Pleso outside of the Croatian capital. It started operations with a 2,500m runway and a small terminal that was expanded in 1966. Around a decade later the airport's runway was also extended by an additional 752m.

Over the years the airport continued to receive strategic upgrades such as a new landing system in 2004 and VIP terminal in 2008 but by 2009 it was clear that Zagreb International Airport had reached its operational capacity of 2 million passengers per year and needed an extensive revamp to accommodate for Croatia’s budding tourism industry.

As a result, a new terminal was constructed between 2013-17, costing a total of 392 million dollars, with a 5 million annual passenger capacity, more than double its predecessor.

Aside from Croatian Airlines, international airlines that frequent Zagreb’s airport include Lufthansa, Emirates and Qatar Airways along with Air France and Eurowings.

Furthermore, in 2021, the Irish airline Ryanair chose Zagreb International airport as a new base. Launching on July 23rd, two aircraft will serve Zagreb International with 36 weekly flights and the addition of twelve new routes for the airline throughout Western Europe. The strategic timing hopes to profit from the public desire to travel after extensive vaccination programs in Europe.

“We are delighted to accelerate the launch of our new base at Zagreb, which will offer our Croatian consumers popular destinations almost two months earlier than scheduled. This advanced opening will open up routes to European hotspots such as London Stansted, Gothenburg and Rome from July. We’re also pleased to announce a further two new routes to Malmö and Düsseldorf Weeze, both operating two departing flights per week from September"

says Jason McGuinness - Commercial Director - Ryanair

Split International

The country’s second busiest airport is located 24km from the South Eastern town of Split on the Kaštela Bay. Given its appealing natural attractions, the airport is a touristic gateway peaking with 3.3 million passengers in 2019.

Split International Airport (known to some Resnik International) opened to public use in 1966, the airport was constructed with the intention of giving air access to the coastal region and isles of Croatia. By 1988 the airport had served a total of 1.2 million passengers and welcomed over 7,873 aircraft. Following a period of conflict and unrest, the airport went on hiatus that continued until 2000. During this time it was used primarily by military and cargo personnel.

With the turn of the century, civil transport and tourism were reignited as the main economies of the region and Split Airport rapidly regained its traffic hitting the 1 million mark in 2006 and counting 1.2 million travelers in 2008.

As the Croatian government continued to improve its leisure facilities, the airport's annual traffic rapidly increased and in turn, the airport was refurbished between 2016-19 giving it a 3.5 million passenger capacity to avoid congestion as well as upgrading the airport's general facilities, improving safety and overall traveler satisfaction.

Catered towards the tourism economy of the region, the airport welcomes a high number of seasonal voyages for the Europeans that spend their summers on Croatian beaches. Offers come from airlines such as Transavia, Iberia, easyJet, Swiss International Airlines and many more. Furthermore, the airport also has scheduled flights from Croatia Airlines along with Edelweiss Air, Eurowings, KLM and Trade Air amongst others.

Dubrovnik International

Dubrovnik International Croatia
Dubrovnik International is Croatia’s third most popular aviation portal

Another coastal airport on the far southeast corner of the country, Dubrovnik International, also referred to as Čilipi Airport is Croatia’s third most popular aviation portal. Sitting near the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina along with Montenegro, the airport is a large contributor to the Croatian Tourism sector, especially during the summer season, and it is also credited for having the country’s longest runway, at 3,300m, well suited to receive heavy-long haul aircraft.  

With almost three million voyagers in 2019, Dubrovnik International is one of Croatia’s busiest airports, especially during the summer months. Tourists flock to the region to enjoy the beaches and green cliffs, visiting the various Game of Thrones filming locations that had been used throughout the popular series along with dabbling in the region's rich culture and history.

Even the airport itself is a touristic attraction as it had been built above an extensive cave network that was converted to a wine cellar that is open to the public.

Technically speaking, Dubrovnik International features a single passenger terminal facility last upgraded in 2015. With a full capacity of 3.5 million passengers per year, the terminal spans 36,500m² with four jet bridges, duty-free shops and modern baggage handling facilities.

As seen with Split International’s operational planning, Dubrovnik Airport also receives a mass of seasonal flights from a plethora of European airlines along with featuring some scheduled routes to such places as Athens, London, Istanbul and Barcelona.

Zadar International Airport

Zadar International Airport

One of Croatia’s oldest active airports, Zadar International has been operating civilian flights since 1936 when it was frequented by the Italian airline Ala Littoria. Located in the town of Zemunik Donji, near the city of Zadar, the airport grants air-transport facilities to the regions of Dalmatia and Lika and has grown to become Croatia’s fourth busiest air facility.

Before this, in the 1990s unfortunately, during a time of political turmoil, the airport was heavily destroyed and it was not until the Croatian government instated Operation Maslenica in 1993 that Zadar International was set for recovery. Aside from reconstruction, one of the main contributors to the airport's growth and success was the wave of budget airlines that encouraged traffic to the region and secured the airport as a safe aviation gateway. By 2019, the airport had reported 700,000 passengers.  

Since 2013, it has acted as a base for Ryanair, housing a single Boeing 737-800 that serves various European destinations including Bremen, Gdansk, Paris Beauvais, Riga and Toulouse. Whilst initially set for 2020 release, the Covid-19 pandemic pushed Ryanair to delay adding 11 new routes from their Zadar base to 2021.

With its double 2,500m concrete and asphalt runways, the airport sees frequent seasonal traffic from a pool of European airlines along with having regular flights to Pula and Zagreb by Croatia Airlines.  

Looking Good

Although Croatia possesses a somewhat young aviation infrastructure that began to see serious development after the country’s independence in the early 90s, it stands impressive to say the least. Fueled by the country’s captivating landscapes and cultural appeal, tourists and budget flyers have elevated Croatian aviation to standing prominent in Europe.

Ahmed El Dahan
Aviation Journalist
A seasoned writer, Ahmed El Dahan was trained in Journalism and Mass Communication in the American University in Cairo. He then moved on to refine his writing skills working in various publications covering such topics as tourism, art exhibitions, music along with being a food critic. Relocating to Paris in 2015, he has an ever growing curiosity for the aviation industry. Away from the page, Dahan is an active professional saxophonist.

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