January 5, 2011

Airports 2.

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Situated southeast of Göteborg (Gothenburg), the Göteborg-Landvetter airport leads a mostly dull, quiet existence since superseding the city's former airport, Torslanda flygfält ("Torslanda airfield"), in 1977. Although the second largest airport in Sweden, Landvetter (as it's colloquially known) languishes in the shadow of the much larger airline hubs of Copenhagen and Stockholm, mostly handling the west coast region's business passengers and assorted freight. Its sole moment of notoriety perhaps being the scene of what likely was only the second "plane hold-up" in history. On March 7, 2006, three men in an SUV smashed an access-gate at the airport, drove up to a plane just arrived form London, threatened staff with semi-automatic weapons, and stole some SEK 7.8 million (≈C$ 1.2 million) in foreign currency.

Additionally, the robbers planted a fake bomb — consisting of a bag of flour, a lamp, and an antenna — near the plane, leading to to the airport's international terminal being closed for nine hours. (They also spread caltrops on a nearby highway to hinder access by emergency vehicles.) A year later, some eight men apprehended for the robbery were tried, with the main trio being sentenced to serve seven years in jail, one man sentenced to serve two months, while the remaining four were exonerated. The money was never recovered. Because it was preceded by a similar event on Curaçao in 1997, even in the annals of "great plane robberies" Landvetter — the eighth largest airport in Scandinavia merely places second.

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Ever since Københavns Lufthavne A/S (Copenhagen Airports Plc.) assumed operation of the Roskilde airport in 1990, less frequent fliers could be forgiven for thinking the Danish capital region is serviced by not one but two airports — differentiated in a small way by name and somewhat more substantially by size. Yet Københavns Lufthavn, Roskilde (Roskilde Airport) only ranks as the sixth largest airport in Scandinavia, having been established in 1973 as a relief airfield for the main Scandinavian airline hub Københavns Lufthavn, Kastrup (Copenhagen Airport), which in turn has steadily grown to became the region's largest and busiest.

The Danish capital's main airport was established in 1925 near the village of Kastrup (a contraction of "Karls torp", "Karl's village"), and has been intrinsically connected with the modernist architect Vilhelm Lauritzen (1894 - 1984) since the late 1930s. Lauritzen's original terminal building, inaugurated in 1939, is considered one of the finest examples of Scandinavian functionalism, and was fully refurbished in 1999 when it was moved nearly four kilometers to accommodate further expansion of the airport. Lauritzen also designed the second terminal (which superseded the first in 1960), while the firm he founded in 1922 has been responsible for the third terminal (opened in 1998), and continues to be involved in the airport's expansion to this day.

Though the Kastrup airfield's history of incidents and accidents has been largely unremarkable for a facility of its import and size, the crash of a KLM Douglas DC-3 in January 1947 stands out — in particular for the neighboring Swedes. Having landed for a brief stop en route from Amsterdam to Stockholm, the flight crew found themselves strapped for time and skipped the usual safety check before resuming their journey. A gust lock on one of the plane's rudders was overlooked and left engaged, sending the machine straight into the ground soon after take-off, killing all 22 people aboard; among them American opera singer and actress Grace Moore and Prince Gustav Adolf of Sweden (father of the current Swedish regent Carl XVI Gustaf).

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The Flughafen Zürich-Kloten (Zurich Airport) likely first gained international renown in 1969, the year that saw the greatest amount of aircraft hijackings in a single year (82 in total), when it perhaps first seemed that the days of glamourous air travel may indeed have come to an end. On February 18, 1969, four Palestinian terrorists attacked an Israeli airliner at this airport, killing one of the pilots and injuring another eight people. One terrorist was killed in the ensuing gunfight by an Israeli agent, while the others were apprehended by airport firemen and imprisoned — yet released the following year in the aftermath of the destruction of Swissair Flight 330 and the Dawson's Field hijackings.

Prior to unwittingly becoming a stage for international militant histrionics, the Zürich airport rose from the ashes of the abandoned Swiss National Airport Utzenstorf project, and grew in carefully planned stages somehow fitting the perception of nation preoccupied with horology. The fifth expansion since 1948, completed in 2004, saw the addition of the satellite terminal Pier E, which is connected to the rest of the airport solely by an automated people mover (APM), essentially an underground cable car, somewhat ironically named Skymetro.

Since 2006, the subterranean air cushioned cableway compensates for the lack of breathtaking alpine views by entertaining its passengers with a ride past 160 lightboxes, installed every 100 meters, which act as a zoetrope when passed in quick succession by the trains. The "topical films" (one featuring Heidi, the other the Matterhorn) seemingly projected on the tunnel walls are accompanied by a soundtrack of "typical Swiss sounds" (cowbells, yodels) inside the train cars during their brief (2 min, 45 s) transit between terminals.

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