Aruba’s Airport: From Humble Beginnings to Gateway 2030
Queen Beatrix International Airport is Aruba’s aviation gateway serving more than 2.5 million passengers annually with non-stop service to 14 U.S. destinations and 19 other international destinations in more than 14 countries, connecting Aruba to the world one flight at a time. Queen Beatrix International Airport is located approximately 3.1 miles/5 km from the downtown area, 5 miles/7.2 km from the low-rise hotels, and 7 miles/10.7 km from the high-rise hotels. For more information, please visit www.airportaruba.com.
The Curtiss H-16s in the Paardenbaai Harbor – 1923
Aruba’s aviation history dates back more than 90 years. It was on Saturday, August 18, 1923, when two US Navy Curtiss H-16 long-range maritime patrol flying boats landed for the first time in the Paardenbaai Harbor of Oranjestad. The two aircraft operated out of the Coco Solo Naval Air Station (NAS) in the Panama Canal Zone. After a short stay on the island, both aircraft continued their flights at 11:40 am to Curacao.
In 1933, the first locally based aircraft, a Curtiss-Robin, was brought to Aruba. Manuel Viana, James Hathaway, and James A. Massey flew it from a mudflat runway near the sea in Savaneta. None of these men had any real experience in the air. To overcome this handicap, the trio engaged an ex-Braniff Airways pilot, A.J. Viccellio. His task was to assist in building up aviation in Aruba by means of instruction and the possible development of an airline.
Loening C2H Air Yacht – 1934
In 1934, commercial aviation was introduced in Aruba by Manuel Viana of Viana Auto Supply. Once each week, his six-passenger single-engine Loening C2H Air Yacht amphibious airliner carried passengers and mail between Aruba and Curacao with pilot A.J. Viccellio at the controls. Manuel Viana bought the Loening C2H Air Yacht from the Standard Oil Co. of Venezuela. In December 1933, the aircraft was shipped to Aruba and handed over to Lago and sent to Mr. Viana of the Caribbean Flying Service. In 1934, the aircraft was registered to the Caribbean Flying Service with registration number PJ-ZAA and used for scheduled service between Aruba and Curacao. Operations ceased December 1934 after the start of operations of KLM West-Indisch Bedrijf. Manuel Viana was paid by KLM to stop the scheduled service.
Advent of Scheduled Flights at KLM Field – 1935
KLM’s “Snip” made its first appearance in Aruba on December 24, 1934, when the Fokker F.XVIII touched down at 10:20 am on the mudflat runway in Savaneta. KLM later transferred its operations to its own graded runway, the KLM Field, located at the site later known as the Dakota Field. A terminal was built at the KLM Field.
KLM’s Snip, the PJ-AIS Fokker tri-motor, ushered in the scheduled flying age in Aruba on January 19, 1935. It flew together with KLM’s “Oriol”—the PJ-AIO, also a three-engine Fokker—until 1946, after which both aircraft were scrapped. With its bi-weekly Aruba-Curacao operations, KLM transported 2,695 passengers on 471 flights.
Dakota Airport – 1942
In early 1942, the German Navy began anti-shipping operations using U-boats in the Caribbean. The subs sank several tankers in the harbor at San Nicolas and shelled the Lago oil refinery in an attempt to disrupt the supply of fuel to the war effort in Europe, prompting the government of Aruba to build a 5,100-foot-long air strip for the US Army Air Corps, together with a small building that served as a terminal, which was inaugurated on June 4, 1942. These facilities later became known as the “Dakota Airport.” During this period, the airport served as the base of operations for the U.S. Sixth Air Force defending Caribbean shipping and the Panama Canal against German submarines, until it was disestablished after the end of the war in October 1945.
New Runway and Parallel Taxiway Completed – 1954
The third terminal building was inaugurated on March 18, 1950. Nearly a decade after the government of Aruba constructed the original paved runway, it was discovered while repairing 42 paving breaks, which appeared between December 1950 and March 1951, that only two and a half inches of paving covered the runway. The paving break-ups threatened to close the field, so the island government decided to adopt a two-fold program: to pave an area 133 feet wide and 4,500 feet long to be used as a runway and taxiway strip while the main runway was being repaired. In September 1953, the 4,500-foot runway and taxiway combination was completed, which served as a substitute for the main runway while it was being repaired and lengthened. When work on the main runway was completed in 1954, the new 6,445-foot lighted runway and 4,500-foot parallel taxiway configuration served to upgrade the airport from Class D to Class C in the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) rating system, which existed at the time.
Dakota Airport Dedicated to Princess Beatrix – 1955
On October 22, 1955, the “Dakota Airport” was dedicated to Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands during the visit of Her Royal Highness Queen Juliana. The opening ceremony was presided over by His Royal Highness Prince Bernard. Furthermore, during this same year, the old Dakota terminal building was changed into the airport fire department garage.
In 1962, plans started on the expansion of the airport to accommodate the new jet aircraft entering into service and to plan for the passengers expected from new and larger airplanes. The plans included a new terminal on the north side of the airport; a completely new runway laid over the existing one, including a 3,000-foot extension into the lagoon; relocation of the Oranjestad – San Nicolas highway around the airport; and new glide-path lighting needed for jet aircraft approaches.
Start of the Jet Age in Aruba – 1964
On April 10, 1964, the first phase, the extension of the runway, was completed, and the start of the jet age commenced in Aruba. The first two jet landings in Aruba were Jet Clipper “Aruba” of Pan American Airways and the Henry Dunant of KLM. A year later, the groundbreaking for the construction of the fourth terminal building took place, which was inaugurated on November 8, 1972.
Beatrix 2000 Expansion Project
In 1997, another major expansion project for the airport, Beatrix 2000, began. The first phase of the project was completed and inaugurated on September 1, 1999. The Beatrix 2000 design included an expansion and renovation to the existing 1972 terminal and included a new arrival immigration hall, baggage claim, eight contact gates, a new concession area, and two separated check-in buildings for U.S. and non-U.S. bound flights.
Renovation – 2011
The Aruba Airport received a transformative renovation in 2011. The aesthetic upgrade is still impressive today.
Gateway 2030 Expansion Project
Gateway 2030 is the airport’s first major expansion since 2000. The construction started in 2018 and will last for four years. The airport expansion includes three additional contact gates, two extra bus gates, a broader selection of retail, food and beverage outlets, and much more.