Beginning of passenger air traffic in this region goes back to the period prior to the Second World War. As early as 1930 there was the air service Belgrade – Sarajevo – Podgorica by small passenger planes, using a military aerodrome in Rajlovac. Civil flights were taken by the airline called „AEROPUT“ d.d. from Belgrade with French planes Potez 29.
When the war began all civil air traffic operations in the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia were stopped. After the war, i.e. in 1947 scheduled air traffic was re-established by introducing air service to Sarajevo from Belgrade and Zagreb. The newly formed Yugoslav-Soviet airline called „JUSTA“ used the airport in Butmir. This carrier was operating just for a year or so when the Government of the former Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, because of the conflict with the USSR, made a decision to establish a local airline called Yugoslav Air Transport, better known under its abbreviated name JAT. Most of JAT fleet made Dakota (DC-3) aircraft with 24 passenger seats. The legendary DC-3 continued to be used for the following 22 years.
Because of growing needs and new aircraft requiring solid concrete maneuvering surfaces, the idea of building a new airport in Sarajevo started to be realized. After analyzing location of a new airport for years, it was eventually decided to erect it in the Sarajevo field, next to the existing grass aerfield in Butmir. The construction began in late 1965 and required more than three years.
Complete airport infrastructure was built, including the runway, taxiways, platform and a modest terminal and administration building. Air traffic control tower was constructed as a part of the airport building. Radio-navigational equipment (R/NAV) was adequate for ground handling of any aircraft to category „C“ conclusively, for night operations, too and under adverse weather conditions (VFR and IFR flights).
On 2 June 1969 the new airport „Sarajevo-Ilidža“, what was its official name at that time, was finally open for civil air traffic.
The new international airport opened new possibilities for further development of civil aviation. Number of passengers and aircraft in that period was growing gradually every year, but Sarajevo airport still remained the so called „FEEDING AIRPORT“ whose task was to provide passengers to the airports in Belgrade and Zagreb.
By announcing nomination of Sarajevo for the Winter Olympic Games (WOG '84) it became necessary to extend basic capacities of the airport (prolongation of the existing runway, construction of a new, parallel taxiway, new terminal and the air traffic control centre with a new control tower. At the same time there were efforts to inquire about possibilities to install new R/NAV equipment which would decrease aircraft operating minimums and thus increase the frequency of aircraft on landing and take-off. This demanding idea was realized just before the opening of the '84 WOG. The runway was extended for additional 150 m, a new taxiway constructed and the ramp enlarged. Reconstruction also included installation of completely new lighting system of the runway, approach zone and taxiways and all planned radio-navigational equipment (3 VORs and a new ILS), as well as a very functional terminal building. The terminal was designed to have all facilities being typical for international airports, what ranked Sarajevo airport among the best in this part of Europe. The airport was ready, both regarding technology and human resources. The Games could begin.
During the Games and somewhat before they started, air traffic intensified with 50-70 operations a day. It was the first time that JAT's biggest passenger aircraft DC-10, flying directly from New York, landed here. There were other big international planes, too, like L-1011-Tristar, B-707, DC-8, etc. It is worth mentioning that air traffic record was achieved on the last day of the Olympics when approx. 14.000 passengers were handled without any delay or mistake.
Slightly before the aggression to B&H air traffic was on the increase again, mostly because of a local charter carrier „AIR COMMERCE“ that transported more than 40.000 passengers from October 1991 until March 1992.
Then, just before the occupation of B&H, UNPROFOR peace keeping forces came to the airport (Canadian Army unit). Those who knew what was going to happen sent their families out of Sarajevo, mostly by planes as the safest way of transportation because of the „log barricades“ on the roads. Many people left, including families of YNA members (who took military planes), foreigners, etc.
Then the aggression actually began by ex-YNA occupation of the Sarajevo airport. In the night between April 4 and 5, 1992 the airforce units from the Rajlovac Aviation academy took control over the airport until mid June when they gave it to the Serbian paramilitary units. Arrival of the Serbian paramilitary units meant plunder and destruction of the airport equipment, R/NAV instruments and everything that could not be transported to Belgrade or other Serb-cotrolled territories.
A gloomy period began. Civil operation were totally stopped.
The UNPROFOR units, still deployed at the airport, started re-establishing military air traffic. Mandate for this mission was given to the French detached airforce unit called the „FRENCH DETAIR“. At that time the airport served for military purposes only and partially for humanitarian aid flights in order to provide basic necessities to the Sarajevo population. The airport was also used for evacuation of sick and wounded citizens and for transport of „peace“ delegations.
The period from 1992-1995 will be remembered as the longest humaniratian airlift for supplying the beseiged city. Almost 13.000 operations in more than three years considerably surpasses the airlift of the Allies for transport of supplies to West Berlin.
Before construction of the war structure known as „DB“ (tunnel Dobrinja – Butmir), a tunnel dug under the airport runway, more than 800 persons were killed at the airport. They were running across the runway to find food in free territories in Butmir and Hrasnica. The Serbian paramilitary unit located in close vicinity of the airport was shooting pitilessly to any civilian running from hard necessity across the runway.
From April 1996 a part of the airport was handed over to civil authorities of B&H. From that moment began a „battle“ for taking over a full civil control at the airport. It was practically started from zero. Some second-hand equipment was donated to the airport, sorting area was sanated and turned into the terminal building. After finishing a short training in Turkey, employees started to perform their duties.
Sarajevo airport was re-opened for civil air traffic on 15 August 1996. The opening ceremony made all the employees' dream true. Immediately upon the opening Croatia Airlines established connection between Sarajevo and Zagreb, while Turkish carrier TOP AIR started flying from Sarajevo to Istanbul. By the end of 1996 Sarajevo airport had 26.000 passengers. It was the only airport in B&H open for civil air traffic. All maneuvering surfaces were reconstructed, together with technical buildings and the air traffic control tower.
General recosntruction of terminal building with completely new technology and top quality equipment was successfully finished in early 2001. By its official opening ceremony in March 2001 the airport had all necessary facilities regarding needs and comfort of passengers. Then started a new successful period of quality work and excellent results.
As the capital and headquarters of many embassies Sarajevo became an interesting destination for many reputable airlines like LUFTHANSA, AUSTRIAN AIRLINES, TURKISH AIRLINES, ADRIA AIRWAYS, CROATIA AIRLINES, GERMANWINGS, etc. All of them recognized our professional attitude and continued to fly on mutual satisfaction for years.
Today with approx. 400 employees, traffic of more than 600.000 passengers a year, over 7.000 flights, over 2 million kg of cargo, we can proudly say that the old myth of Phoenix repeats because we have made a long step from the war ashes to today's technological-operative maximum in aviation to which we all aspire.