History of the Tel Aviv Airport (Gurion)

Author: Ira Riklis  |  Category: Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv Airport is the primary gateway into and out of the Middle East. Around 14 million passengers walk through its extensive security every year. On its runways, Tel Aviv Airport oversees hundreds of international flights a week. It’s also the home base of El Al, Israir Airlines, and Arkia Israel Airlines. The major transportation hub has seen many ups and downs to reach its current status and high satisfaction ranking among travelers.

The Origins

The Tel Aviv airport first opened in 1936 as Wilhelma Airport as part of the British Mandate for Palestine. The original airport was just four long strips of concrete from which an airplane could land or take off. Located on the outskirts of the Lydda, the small airport was used for military purposes and was the military hub for transport and aircraft ferry operations between military bases in Europe, Africa and throughout the the Middle East. It’s military use peak during World War Two. That changed in 1946 when the airport saw the first civilian international flight take off to New York City.


Up until 1948, the British had control of the airport. On July 10th, the Israelis defense forces officially took control of the Tel Aviv Airport and has maintained control of the airport since. Shorty after, the number of passengers rose to 100,000 a month. In the early 1970s, the airport had two instances with hijackers that resulted in loss of life. Today, the security is heightened with every vehicle to pass through its gates greeted by armed guards. Plainclothes solders walk the airport for increased security and all bags go through a CT or X ray machine.

Ultimate Expansion

The original airport design of four intersecting runways caused some safety concerns as the airport grew. It’s since been redesigned and features three runways. Additional terminals were also built and there are plans for future expansions.

Tel Aviv Airport has played and will continue to play a large, critical role in access to the Middle East. According to Airports Council International, the airport is ranked first among the 40 major European airports and is 8th out of 77th major airplane hubs in the world.