Exclusive: Exploring Greece’s Abandoned International Airport

An Olympic Airlines 747, once the proud flagship jet of an airline enjoyed by the likes of Hollywood actors, high-profile heads of state, and even Jackie Kennedy, glistens in the sun while sitting idle just South of Athens.

Hellenikon International Airport is abandoned and derelict, a living example of ‘when time stood still’.

For six decades, the airport served as the Greek capital’s main hub for commercial airliners. It was the Greek home of the ‘golden age’ of air travel, handling around 12 million passengers per year.

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Olympic 727 at Hellinikon Airport

The airport had two terminals: the West Terminal for Olympic Airways, and the East Terminal for all other carriers.

But following the opening of the current Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (ATH) in 2001, Hellinkon was neglected and is now caught up in years worth of bureaucracy and debates surrounding what the airport site should be used for. Not only are there no concrete plans for the future of the site, but in addition to this, there isn’t any company, firm, nor individual person managing the former hub airport itself — hence its dire, sad state.

Now, almost 20 years since the airports’ closure, the entire site is off-limits to the public for fears of airport buildings, or even aircraft parts collapsing.

Nearer to the main terminal, the original signs point towards the departure building…

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The approach to the terminal was eerie and resembled an apocalyptic movie set.

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This was the ‘Luggage storage’ facility…

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…and the entrance to the main departures building.

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The ‘safe bag system’ advertisement is still on display, showing pricing in Greek Drachma, the currency replaced by the Euro in 2001.

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Inside the terminal, the original stickers for British Airways ‘Euro Traveller’ and ‘Club Europe’ check-in were visible.

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British Airways has flown a variety of aircraft to Athens, including the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar 100 which flew to Hellinikon during the late-80s.

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British Airways Lockheed L-1011 Tristar 100 at Hellinikon in 1986

The main terminal hall was designed by famed architect Eero Saarinen, who also designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

Outside, I wandered around the airside area of the tarmac and out to the aircraft parking stands.

The unique and somewhat terribly sad aspect of this abandoned airport is that several aircraft of the Olympic Airways fleet is still parked on the airport site today, rotting.

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With this view, I felt I was transported to a time when aviation was more about staircases to First Class, and less about tight legroom & single-aisle cabins that we have become accustomed to today.

Facing the Aegean sea, Olympic Airways Boeing 747-200, Boeing 727, and Boeing 737.

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Olympic Airways, (which became Olympic Airlines) was the Pan Am of Greece. In 1956, the Greek State signed an agreement with Onassis — a greek business tycoon —  for the exclusive use of air transport in Greece. On April 6, 1957, Olympic was born.

The airline served international routes across the globe, including the important Greece-Australia market, beginning Boeing 707 operations between Athens and Sydney twice weekly via Bangkok and Singapore.

In 1973 the death of Onassis’ son, in an aircraft accident affected Onassis and the Greek aviation industry. Onassis sold all Olympic shares to the Greek state and died in 1975. Following this period, the state of the airline worsened, and the company went on to face serious financial trouble from the 1980s, mostly due to management problems.

In an attempt to make Olympic profitable, the airline was managed as a subsidiary of British Airways. The result was even larger debts and rising losses. After a steady removal of the long-haul fleet, in early 2009 Olympic Airlines ceased operations, and while the brand lives on as ‘Olympic Air’ today (as a regional subsidiary of Aegean Airlines), the airline is no more.

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The 737-200 wears the 6-Olympic rings (the airline wasn’t able to use the official Olympics 5-ring logo, due to copyright laws).

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Valuable aircraft parts, including the engines, were removed prior to storing these long-haul birds at Hellinikon.

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Despite the lack of care, the 747 still looks as impressive as ever.

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This Olympic 747, SX-OAB, first flew in 1973. It was transferred over to Aerolineas Argentinas for a few years, before returning to Greece to continue flying for Olympic Air.

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The aircraft is named ‘Olympic Eagle’

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Stored near to the 747, an abandoned Hellenic Air BAC One-Eleven.

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The Olympic terminal still retains its original sign…

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Anyone exploring this area South of Athens may be surprised to discover the old-airport sign is still signposted by road, including signs to divide traffic into International, Domestic and Arrivals.

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At this point, we spotted what we have since found out was a Hyena — despite there not being an official record of Hyenas in Greece — and made our way inside the old, eerie buildings.

Why was a hyena at the old airport site? Locals, as well as the security for the area the airport is located in, told us that a raid on a property nearby found a person was illegally keeping several wild animals from the continent of Africa, including hyenas. The animals were allegedly taken to the airport site (given it’s fenced off) and left there. Whether this is a true story or not, the security officer seemed very sure of it, and we were definitely face-to-face with something that looked like a hyena.

On the taxiway, a bunch of inflight magazines are ready to be loaded on to an Olympic jet.

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Inside, a wrecked office building where tickets were processed.

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The main terminal buildings were the most damaged areas of the airport site.

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Outside, more information about how to continue to the city centre.

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Still standing tall, the air traffic control tower — once controlling the busy flow of aircraft departing and arriving at Hellinikon.

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Downstairs, more eerie scenes.

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Final Thought 

This was a very unusual experience. To see a marvel of Greek aviation in such a dire state was sad, but at the same time, extraordinary.

The stored Olympic jets was a reminder of how aviation was, but also how far we’ve come in what is a relatively young industry. When you’re next flying to Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (ATH), be sure to keep an eye out during descent for Hellinikon Airport, which can usually be seen from the left side of the aircraft, before final approach.

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5 thoughts on “Exclusive: Exploring Greece’s Abandoned International Airport

  1. Hi Alex. Amazing article. I am curious as to how you were able to get close to the planes. Can you send me an email?

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