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Salzburg Airport - A look at Austria's second busiest airport

Sunday 29th May 2011 at 16:57

Salzburg W.A Mozart Airport
The busy Salzburg W.A Mozart Airport apron during the ski season

For nine months of the year Salzburg Airport could be described as your normal small regional airport.  Yes, it operates a varied selection of scheduled, charter and low-cost flights that you may find interesting but all of these could be seen at dozens of other airports around Europe so, what makes Salzburg so special and worth a visit?

Salzburg Airport - W.A Mozart is Austria’s second busiest airport after Vienna.  Situated in the geographical heart of Austria it is 4kms outside of the city and 200kms from the Bavarian capital Munich.  The German border is just a few minutes from the airport by Autobahn and the Bavarian city of Freilassing is within walking distance of downtown Salzburg.  Salzburg has become a very popular destination for European travellers who are able to take in some of the wonderful culture the city offers together with the beauty of the surrounding Alps.  We look at what this magical Austrian airport has to offer the aviation enthusiast.

Salzburg W.A Mozart Airport history

The Airfield was officially opened in August 1926 with the first flight being operated by Lufthansa from Munich. When the flight schedule was issued in 1928 the press reported enthusiastically that 34 cities could be reached on a daily basis and Salzburg was ‘the most significant provincial airfield’ in Austria. Despite this report there was no airport building and all flight passengers had to make do with a wooden hut!  This aside, the airfield was already extremely busy. In 1928 Salzburg was the most flown to city after Reichenhall and Innsbruck. Much of the remarkable early progress in Austrian aviation was, above all, due to the city's subsidies to attract the various airlines to the airport. Finally, in 1930 a new airfield building was erected and put into operation whilst an airfield bus took care of freight, post and luggage.

The historical events of 12th March 1938, when Austria was no longer an independent state, saw new plans for the modernisation of the Salzburg Airfield by the authorities. There was a written plan for the extension of the existing landing field and the new construction of a large airport to the northwest.  A model of a new large Salzburg Airport was shown to Hermann Göring during his visit in 1938. With the onset of war in September 1939, the aviation ministry of the Third Reich seized the airport. 

Throughout the war years the Germans had expanded the airfield by 80 hectares, the runway was concreted and new hangers built in addition to many other miscellaneous structures.  During the final days of the war, Salzburg Airport was the assembly point for aircraft of the leading officials of the NS-Party, Generals and Pilots. The list of different types of aircrafts extended from the Focke Wulff Condor-200, FW-190-D9, ME-109, Arado AR-96 and Fieseler Storch to mass-produce jets of the world the Me 262.

The American Air Force first bombed the city of Salzburg on the 16th October 1944 with a further 15 attacks on the city thereafter.  The airport, surprisingly, remained undamaged during this bombing period. It was officially taken over by the Americans on the 8th May 1945 with the surrender of Germany and the end of the WWII in Europe and the name ‘Salzburg Airport’ was used for the very first time. 

The remaining Me 262 jets, which were intact or slightly damaged, were dismantled by the Americans who sent them in parts back to the US.  In addition to the small single engine Stinson L5, twin engine DC3-airplanes were brought in by the Americans for connection flights and they were able to use the 1200 metres long and 60 metres wide runway, which had been concreted by the Germans in 1944.

26th May 1951 saw a Swissair aircraft land for the first time to take up the Zurich-Innsbruck-Salzburg route.  This heralded new beginnings and Salzburg became increasingly used by charter and general aviation aircraft. In 1954, Salzburg became the cradle for the reconstruction of Austrian aviation.  Prior to the recovery of the Austrian air sovereignty a year later, the Americans agreed to train pilots for the future national and civil Austrian aviation. At long last Austrian pilots were finally allowed to fly powered aircraft again in Austrian skies using Swiss GA aircraft with Swiss registrations.

In 1960 the completion of an extension to the runway saw a dramatic increase in the passenger numbers, which grew from 12,000 to 121,000 in five years. By the end of the 1970’s Salzburg was handling in excess of 300,000 passengers per annum.

The 1980’s were a big turning point for the airport when a new managing director was appointed.  He quickly started to allow charter flights from England and Scandinavian, which previously had been using Munich airport, to land at Salzburg Airport for the very first time.  The significance of this can be seen quite clearly in the growth in passenger numbers.  In 1986, 460,004 passengers were recorded and just ten years later it was three times as many. From 1986 to 1987 the number of passengers increased from 460,000 to 612,000.  One year later reaching 800,000 and much of this growth is thanks to the ever-increasing popularity of winter skiing holidays.

The Great Air Festival took place in August 1986 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the airport this celebration included old timers, aerial stunt aircraft and military jets and was watched by thousands of spectators. However, there were also many complaints about the noise levels, which proves just how close enthusiasm lies to criticism when it comes to the subject of any airport, which lies close to the conurbation.

As politicians made the airport a great topic of interest for themselves the learning process of the management was hard to avoid. In 1990, the Ministry of Transport passed a new law about permissible noise level at the airport, which resulted in the passenger figures decreasing from 934,000 to 766,000.  This eventually made the airport embark on a path geared towards environmental protection and was the beginning of the road to recovery for the airport.  The success peaked in 1990 with almost 900,000 passengers passing through the airport. This excellent result was achieved by the incoming charter flights from Great Britain and Scandinavia coupled with the increasing popularity of Salzburg Airport as a starting point for the summer charter flights to the med.

Climb every mountain

For nine months of the year Salzburg Airport could be described as your normal ‘run of the mill’ airport.  Yes, it operates a varied selection of scheduled, charter and low-cost flights that you may find interesting but all of these could be seen at dozens of other airports around Europe so, what makes Salzburg so special and worth a visit?

Rossiya Russian Airlines Tu-154 RA-85769
Dozens of photographers taking pictures of another Russian visitor

Each Saturday after the Christmas period Salzburg becomes one of the busiest charter airport destinations for the ever-increasing winter ski holidaymaker from the UK, Scandinavia and surprisingly Russia!

Another upside for visiting is this airport is also one of the most enthusiast-friendly airports in Europe you could wish to visit.  With the aviation enthusiast in mind the airport managers have installed no less than 24 live web cams so, if you want, you can see all the action from every corner of the airfield in the comfort of your own home.  Excellent facilities in and around the airfield are a plenty, together with stunning views of the Alps as a backdrop to some of the rarest aircraft to be seen anywhere.


The local Salzburgers are amongst the most friendly and welcoming of people you could ever wish to meet.  You might want to first head to the open air viewing terrace located above the terminal building first to get your bearings and chat to the locals before you venture to the many excellent perimeter locations around the airfield.  There are specially built raised mounds that the airport has strategically placed for the enthusiasts/photographers so they have a clear unrestricted view over the perimeter fence.  Alternatively, sit on a bench under the flight path while you watch that nice Smokey TU-154 departing, set against the snow covered Alps or maybe the famous castle located against one of the mountains called "Hohensalzburg". This was erected in 1077 and was used to protect the city of Salzburg against foreign knights (they didn’t say anything about aviation enthusiast’s!)

After a morning out in the sub zero temperatures many enthusiasts head for the warmth of the airport restaurant to chat with other spotters and/or photographers about the mornings action while taking in some of the local food and drink. I can highly recommend the following:

Starter: Goulash soup

Main course: Wiener Schnitzel (breaded veal cutlet) with potatoes.

Dessert: Apple strudel with vanilla sauce 

A nice warming drink to go with your dessert are the many different and famous flavours of coffee and, like me, before you head off again to brave the Austrian winter air it just has to be one, or maybe two, schnapps to help keep that cold at bay!

As the night-time draws the airport still continues to attract large numbers of aircraft which can be viewed and photographed under the airports sparkling lights from the free entry spectator terrace which does get rather busy each Saturday night for some unknown reason?

It’s well worth making a weekend of visiting Salzburg.  The variety of aircraft that visit on Saturdays coupled with time taking in the culture and heritage of the city is well worth the trip.  For those, who feel the need to ‘sing’ after their Saturday’s spotting they could take in the famous Sound Of Music tour to trace the Von Trapp families every move!   If you have a few more hours spare, Salzburg has another, rather special, aviation attraction for you to see.  Located on the far side of the airfield you will find the home of the famous Hangar-7 and the Flying Bulls. Housed in a superb modern, and unique architectural, facility it serves as a framework and a stage for the aircraft of the Flying Bulls, a matchless collection of historic aircraft that, again and again, leave the museum building – to go flying!

Selection of our images taken at Salzburg W.A Mozart Airport

Article by Derek Pedley

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