Sarajevo International Airport

Construction on the Sarajevo International Airport got underway in 1965, near the site of what was a smaller military airport in Butmir, a part of town in Sarajevsko Polje. The project took a little over three years to complete and the Sarajevo-Ilidža Airport, as it was originally called, opened on June 2, 1969.

Airport capacity was expanded after Sarajevo was selected to host the 1984 Winter Olympic Games and on the last day of the Olympics (Feb. 19, 1984), the Sarajevo International Airport set a new daily record by processing 14,000 travelers.

On the night of April 5, 1992, the airport was overtaken by a unit of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), a move which marked the beginning of the Siege of Sarajevo, the longest-running siege of a capital city in modern history, lasting an unbelievable 1,425 days.

A real drama played out at the airport on May 2, 1992 when JNA troops apprehended the entire Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina delegation, headed by Alija Izetbegović, the President of RBiH, just as they were returning from peace negotiations in Lisbon.

UN troops on airport

UN troops took control of the airport after François Mitterand, then President of France, paid a surprise visit to Sarajevo on June 28, 1992 with a promise to the citizens of the besieged city that the world would not abandon them.

UNPROFOR launched its humanitarian airlift operations, providing Sarajevo with much-needed supplies from mid-1992 to the beginning of 1995. More than 13,000 flights were made over the course of more than three years, surpassing the number of flights and the duration of the operation that had airlifted supplies to West Berlin during the Cold War.

Capitalizing on the fact that the airport was under the control of UNPROFOR, defenders of Sarajevo began digging a tunnel beneath the runway that ran between the Sarajevo neighborhoods, Dobrinja and Butmir. Over the course of the next three years, it would become the only land-based link besieged Sarajevo had with the rest of the world.

Running across the airstrip

Several hundred people died while running across the airstrip, which was the only way in or out of besieged Sarajevo before the Sarajevo War Tunnel was dug.

With the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement and the reintegration of Sarajevo, civil authorities began to regain control of certain sections of the airport in April 1996 and the airport reinstated civilian flights by August 15 that same year.

Sarajevo’s airport underwent a thorough reconstruction and implemented stringent quality control measures. In 2005, Airports Council International Europe named it the best airport in Europe in the category of up to 1 million passengers processed per year.

The airport has seen a marked increase in the number of passengers in recent years, so there are plans to make further expansions and to build a new terminal.