Pictures: Tallinn Airport through the ages

Tallinn Airport celebrates its 85th birthday this year – the airport was established by Lake Ülemiste on 20 September 1936; Estonian World brings you a selection of pictures taken of the airport and the aircraft over the past eight decades.

Prior to the establishment of the present airport in Ülemiste area, a long-forgotten Lasnamäe Airfield was the primary airport of Tallinn, serving as a base for Aeronaut airline – the first Estonian-owned airline.

Aeronaut operated from 1921-1928, flying German-made Sablatnig P.III and Junkers F13 planes on Tallinn–Helsinki, Tallinn–Stockholm, Tallinn–Riga–Königsberg and Tallinn–Tartu–Viljandi–Pärnu routes.

Aeronaut’s hangar and aircraft at Lasnamäe Airfield in 1925. Public domain.

Aeronaut went bankrupt in 1928 and Lasnamäe Airfield was subsequently used by the Estonian Air Force and later by the Soviet Air Forces (during the Soviet occupation of Estonia) instead, until finally closing in the 1970s, when the Lasnamäe residential district was constructed in the area instead.

Estonian Air Force’s aircraft at Lasnamäe Airfield. Courtesy of the Estonian History Museum.

The area by Lake Ülemiste became the epicentre of the Estonian air traffic in 1928, when a seaplane harbour – to serve Finnish-operated seaplanes – was built on the shores of the lake.

A seaplane harbour was built on the shores of Lake Ülemiste in 1928. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
A bushplane version of Junkers Ju 52 at the seaplane ramp of Tallinn Airport in 1930s. Photo courtesy of the Estonian History Museum.

In 1929, the Estonian parliament, Riigikogu, passed an act to build a modern airport with paved runways. In 1931, the construction of Tallinn Airport – just by the seaplane harbour on the shores of Lake Ülemiste – was started. In 1935, the airport’s administration building was erected, which also served initially as a waiting place for travelers.

LOT’s Lockheed Model 10A Electra at Tallinn Airport in mid-1930s, before the construction of concrete runways. Photo courtesy of the Estonian History Museum, public domain.

Tallinn Airport officially opened on 20 September 1936.

Tallinn Airport’s air control tower and hangar in 1936. Photo by Tallinn Airport.

At its opening, the airport – modern by the standards of its time – had a triangular system of three concrete runways, allowing aircraft to land no matter which way the wind was blowing and in any season.

At the time, the runways were 40 metres wide and 300 metres long each – in comparison, Tallinn Airport’s modern runway is 3,480 metres (2.2 miles) long.

The triangular system of three concrete runways of Tallinn Airport in 1936. The three original runways have survived and can still be seen from the Tallinn-Tartu highway. Photo by Tallinn Airport.

The post-war era

A new terminal building was designed in 1938 by Arthur Jürvetson – grandfather of well-known US-born Estonian venture capitalist, Steve Jurvetson. However, the Second World War caused disruption and the terminal’s construction was put on hold.

After the war, the building was redesigned in accordance with the Stalinist architecture and finally completed in 1955. The former terminal is now the administrative centre of Tallinn Airport.

Tallinn Airport’s terminal in 1957. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
Aeroflot’s (the Soviet state-owned airline that flew from Tallinn to a number of cities in the Soviet Union only) printed summer schedule for Tallinn from 1960. The timetable, featuring Ilyushin Il-14 flying over the Tallinn skyline and beaches, was printed in both Estonian and Russian.
Tallinn Airport’s street-facing facade of the old terminal, before it was restored as an administrative building. The building served as the airport’s terminal from 1955-1980. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
Tallinn Airport’s restored old terminal (1955-1980) now serves as an administrative building of the airport. Photo by Diego Delso, shared under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

A new terminal

In 1980, the new terminal building opened – in time for the Moscow Olympic Games’ regatta that was held in Tallinn. The terminal was designed by a Moscow-based Russian architect Mihhail Piskov, who was inspired by the look of old Estonian threshing barn cottages. The terminal’s original interior was designed by an Estonian designer Maile Grünberg.

The Tallinn Airport terminal was constructed in time for the Moscow Olympic Games’ regatta in 1980. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
Tallinn Airport’s new terminal in 1980. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
Tallinn Airport’s new terminal in 1980. The interior was designed by Maile Grünberg. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
Tallinn Airport’s new terminal in 1980. The interior was designed by Maile Grünberg. Photo courtesy of thetallinncollector.com
A pair of Aeroflot’s Tupolev Tu-134s parked at the gate at the Tallinn Airport’s new terminal in 1980. Aeroflot flew only to other Soviet cities from Tallinn – it was not possible to take a direct flight to any other country outside the Soviet Union. Photo by Boris Gorsky.
International flight connections were restored with the rest of the world in 1989, when SAS, the flag carrier of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, started serving Stockholm-Tallinn route. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
Tallinn Airport. Photo by Pjotr Mahhonin, shared under the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.
Tallinn Airport’s terminal after it was modernised in 2006. Photo by Pjotr Mahhonin, shared under the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.
Tallinn Airport was officially named Lennart Meri International Airport in honour of the late Estonian president, Lennart Meri (1929-2006). Photo by Tallinn Airport.
George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States from 2001 to 2009, became the first incumbent American president to visit Estonia on 28 November 2006. The plane designated Air Force One at Tallinn Airport. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
A Lauda Air’s Bombardier CRJ100 and a Finnair’s aircraft at Tallinn Airport in 2006. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
An Antonov An-124 Ruslan, one of the heaviest cargo aircraft in the world, at Tallinn Airport in 2006. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
Several modernisations have taken place at the airport since 1999. An extension to the main terminal building was built in 2008. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
An Embraer 170 of Estonian Air at Tallinn Airport in 2012. The flag carrier airline of Estonia was established in 1991 and went bankrupt in 2015. Photo by Diego Delso, shared under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.
Tallinn Airport’s runway and taxiway were extended further in 2016. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
In 2017, Tallinn Airport was connected to the Tallinn tram link. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
In 2016, Tallinn Airport was voted third best in Europe and ninth best in the world, according to the airport guide, Sleeping in Airports. The result was based on the overall experience determined by travellers who had taken the site’s 2016 airport survey; the library in Tallinn Airport. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
A piano at Tallinn Airport. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
Children’s play area at Tallinn Airport. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
A cafe at Tallinn Airport. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
A Ryanair’s Boeing 737 at Tallinn Airport. In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the airport served over three million passengers a year.
In 2019, another extension, housing a car park, was added to Tallinn Airport. Photo by Tallinn Airport.
A Boeing 747 landing at Tallinn Airport. Photo by Tallinn Airport.

Cover: Tallinn Airport’s terminal in 1999, before it was modernised. Photo by Tallinn Airport.

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