For the most part, guests arriving in Crete are aware of only two international airports on the island: in Heraklion and Chania. However, there are six airports in Crete! In addition to Heraklion and Chania, the airport of Sitia has also international service during the season. These three airports serve domestic flights all year round. Chania Airport is a joint civilian and military one: it is also an air base. In addition to these three civilian airports in Crete, there are three more military airfields: Kasteli, Tympaki and Maleme. It should be said that Maleme Airport is no longer operated by the Greek Air Force; and they began building a large new international airport near Kasteli.
We will tell you more about each of them.
In this issue we will tell about civilian airfields: Heraklion International Airport, Heraklion International Airport and Sitia Airport.
Heraklion International Airport “Nikos Kazantzakis” is located on the shores of the Aegean Sea, five kilometers east of Heraklion. Its international code is HER, and it is named after the Greek writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis.
At the airport, there are passenger and cargo terminals, and it is the second largest in passenger traffic in Greece after the capital, Athens Airport. Currently, the annual passenger flow is about 8 million people, of which more than 6 million use the international service.
The 11th Anti-Aircraft Missile Squadron is located also at Heraklion Air Base. Greece is the only country in NATO that has Russian anti-aircraft missile defense systems in its armed forces. At present, the indicated 11th squadron is armed with the Russian S-300PMU systems as well as with the Tor-M1 short-range systems.
The airport was built and began to receive airplanes in 1937. After the Second World War, air communication resumed only at the end of 1946, and a year later the first small passenger terminal was built. Since 1948, the first commercial flights began to be operated by “Hellas” from Heraklion. In 1953, a runway with a length of 1850m was built. In 1971, it was extended to 2680 meters. In the same year, British Airways made its first overseas flight from Heraklion Airport, and in 1972 a full-fledged airport complex was opened.
Since 2005, the airport complex began to gradually expand and modernize due to increasing flow of tourists. The last reconstruction of the island’s main air harbor building was completed recently, in 2018. As a result, the airport acquired all the attributes of a large one. Now the area of the terminal building is more than 22,000 square meters. There are two active asphalt runways with the length of 2714 and 1566m. The total number of aircraft parking lots is 25.
It should be noted that at the height of a season the airport operates at the limit of its capabilities. Therefore, it was decided to build a new international airport in the territory adjacent to the current mixed-use public/military Kasteli Airport.
A bus stop, from where buses to Heraklion regularly depart, is located opposite the passenger terminal building.
Chania International Airport “Ioannis Daskalogiannis” is a joint use international airport located on the Akrotiri Peninsula above the Gulf of Souda and 15 kilometers from the center of Chania. Its international code is CHQ; and sometimes it is called the airport of Souda. Since 2000, it bears the name of Ioannis Daskalogiannis, a leader of the Cretan revolt against the Ottomans in 1770.
It is the base of the Greek Air Force receiving NATO Air Force planes, but this does not affect the ordinary passenger service. The 115th Combat Wing of the Greek Air Force is deployed at the base, consisting of three squadrons: fighter-bombers No. 340 “Fox” and No. 343 “Star” as well as a flight training one. They are mainly consisted of F-16 aircrafts.
Since 2015 Chania Airport, among the other 13 Greek airports, has come under the control of the private concessionaire Fraport Greece. Fraport is a German airport holding company operating 31 airports around the world. The largest airport under the holding’s management is in Frankfurt.
Until the 60s, the small military airfield of Maleme was the air gate of the island’s western part. It received not only military aircrafts, but also all domestic flights until 1959, when the military base was transferred to a new airport built near Chania. The first passenger terminal with two aircraft parking lots began to operate in Chania in 1967, and in 1974 it took international service. In 1996, a new passenger terminal was opened with six aircraft parking lots. Now the total number of aircraft parking lots is 10 and the length of the asphalt runway 3347 meters.
The Chania Airport is the second busiest and most popular on the island. In 2018, its passenger traffic amounted to a little more than 3 million people, of which 2,362 million used its international service.
Regular buses leave from the airport for Chania city center. Travel time is about 20 minutes.
Sitia Airport “Vitsentzos Kornaros” is a small municipal one in the eastern part of Crete, in the Lassithi region: about 1 km northwest of Sitia on top of a large Bonda hill. Its IATA code is JSH; and it is named after a writer born in the region of Sitia, the author of the romance “Erotokritos”, a masterpiece of Greek literature from the time of Venetian rule.
It is the youngest airport in Crete: opened in 1984. Since then, it has been constantly reconstructed. In 1993, its terminal was modernized, and in 2002 a new runway with a length of 2100 meters was opened. Since 2012, in addition to domestic flights, Sitia Airport began to serve international charter flights. In 2015, airport services moved to a new modern terminal building, covering an area of 7500 square meters. Its terminal is small but has everything you need. In 2018, passenger traffic on domestic flights amounted to about 34 thousand people, and 36 thousand used its international service.
From the airport it is easy to get by bus to the city center; and from there you can reach any city on the island.
Composed by Victor Dubrovsky