Forgotten Airports: What are those?
Many airports throughout the world have been forgotten, whether a major hub for an airline that closed up, or the airport closed to make way for a new airport, or it simply was famous and isn’t now.
If you have an idea for a forgotten airport you want me to write about, please private message me!
Lambert-St. Louis | Background
- Location: St. Louis Missouri
- IATA Code: STL
- IACO Code: KSTL
- Longest runway: 12R/30L (11,019 feet / 3,359 meters)
Lambert is currently the largest airport in the state of Missouri, it has a state of the art fifteen million dollar control tower. The airport sits on a footprint of roughly 2800 acres and has four concrete runways. The airport elevation is 605 feet (184.4 meters) above sea level.
History | Pre WW2
The airport began as ‘Kinloch Field’ in the 1890s as a balloon launching base. The Wright Brothers flew to the airport when touring with their new aircraft. Theodore Roosevelt became the first United States president to fly a plane, and he flew with an experienced pilot, they flew at the airfield that would soon become Lambert-St. Louis. The very first parachute jump came out over Kinloch Field.
The name of the area was then changed to Lambert field, named after the Olympic golfer, St. Louis’ first pilot, and the owner of the company that produced Listerine, Albert Bond Lambert. In 1925 Lambert leased out 170 acres of farmland, paid out of his own pocket, the cost to clear and drain it, and paid to build a hangar. Lambert then gave free use to anybody in the public wishing to fly out of there. Lambert then sold it in 1928 to the City of St. Louis for two million dollars, making this field the very first publicly owned airport in the United States. Lambert made a lasting impact on the aviation history in St. Louis with his kindness of the airport. Not many people have the heart and soul to spend all of that money for public use.
Around this time, the first airlines began service into St. Louis. William Robertson founded the Curtiss-Wright airplane company. In the 1930s they produced many civil and military aircraft in their St. Louis factory. Curtiss-Wright was one of the very first aircraft companies, having a production plant in St. Louis meant that at the time, Lambert was the pinnacle of aviation.
In 1929 Lambert became the first airport to have an established air traffic control system. Archie Leauge became the first traffic controller, waving flags to communicate with aircraft. Looking back on it now, it looks like a rudimentary and foolish practice, but at the time this was extremely innovative, so innovative all major airports use ATC now.
Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) selected St. Louis as a part of their “Coast to Coast in 48 hours” campaign. This meant that St. Louis would be getting a lot of air traffic. In 1930 TAT rebranded to Transcontinental and Western Airlines, later known as TWA. Soon after in 1933 the airport’s first terminal opened, moving over 24,000 passengers the very first year it was open. This terminal was cheap and hastily built, it was often compared to a train depot.
History | WW2 and post-WW2
In 1939 James McDonnell formed the McDonnell aircraft company, it’s main plant was built at Lambert. The Curtiss-Wright company spent around ten million dollars to renew, expand, and modernize their factory to prepare for the demand for military aircraft. Around this time a new 6,000-foot runway was constructed, and the United States Navy created a training facility to train cadet pilots, 3000 of which would graduate before the end of WW2.
During World War 2, almost all of the fighters built by McDonnell and Curtiss-Wright were built in St. Louis.
At the end of World War 2, Curtiss-Wright ended production at it’s St. Louis plant, McDonnell took control of the plant to expand it’s production capabilities. When McDonnell was awarded the contract to produce the all-new F4 Phantom fighter jet, they selected St. Louis to construct the aircraft.
As air travel began to expand after WW2 because of the surplus of extra aircraft after the war. St. Louis began to have direct service to a handful of cities in TWA and American Airlines aircraft.
With the Cold War beginning to get hot, McDonnell began production of F2s, F3s, and F101s, to keep up with the larger, faster, and newer aircraft, these iconic aircraft where built in the production plant at St. Louis. To keep up with the larger, faster, and more advanced aircraft, a 10,000-foot runway was constricted at Lambert.
In 1956 the iconic terminal, designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the same person who designed the World Trade Center, opened and paved the way for airport terminals, at the time this was one of the most iconic airport terminals in the world. The smart design allows for easy and inexpensive expandability of the terminal buildings, should it be necessary. The design was also extremely strong, using a concrete shell it required very few nosy support structures.
By 1957 St. Louis had around 120 weekly departures from seven different airlines. Forty-four of those departures were from TWA. At the time TWA began to focus more and more aircraft to St. Louis. In 1959 the very first jet to visit Lambert was a TWA 707.
Ozark Airlines established a hub at Lambert in the 1950s, the airline was rapidly expanding and a hub was necessary by that point, due to their headquarters being in St. Louis the obvious choice for them was Lambert. With Ozark acquiring their first jet, the DC9, in 1966 their route network exploded, adding nearly a dozen new routes out of St. Louis. When TWA officially created their hub in St. Louis, Ozark and TWA had a strong rivalry with each other. This kept tickets cheap.
1971 brought the first widebody to Lambert, the TWA 747. When TWA acquired the Tristar in 1972 it tagged along. This brought the dream of a large TWA hub here into reality. Many small additions to the airport like upgraded jetbridges and expanded terminals were added to easily turnaround the widebodies.
In 1972 McDonnell Aircraft began production on the F-15 for the United States Air Force in St. Louis. In 1978 production for the F/A-18 Hornet began for the Navy. Shortly thereafter production for the Harrier jump jet started at Lambert. McDonnell expanded their St. Louis facility to make room for the speedy production of these new birds.
In 1977 Lambert was granted nearly 300 million dollars to lengthen the runways, increase total capacity, and increase the number of gates. Concourses A and C were equipped with jetways, Concourse C was extended to allow expansion for TWA, and an all-new Concourse D was built to serve Ozark’s gates. Because of TWA’s widebodies and both TWA and Ozark’s expansion Lambert needed a new face.
History | Airline Deregulation
In 1978 airlines were no longer regulated by the government, this means there are no government-set fees on any flights.This made it more cost effective for airlines to adopt the hub and spoke system., this is where airline operations are centralized into one location or hub to streamline costs. TWA wanted to choose a hub that they could expand their operations to but had one heck of a decision. They had it narrowed it down between Kansas City, where their main employment base is, Chicago, and St. Louis. Both Chicago and St. Louis were decent sized hubs for TWA, however, Chicago was losing them lots of money because of the tight competition with both United and American out of O’hare. They decided to make St. Louis their Midwest hub, further competing with Ozark.
TWA expanded into St. Louis so quickly that Lambert was simply unable to keep up with the growing demand. TWA was forced to use temporary terminals and airstairs to serve all of the traffic out of St. Louis. Further airport expansion was required to serve these aircraft.
In 1985, Southwest Airlines began service to St. Louis, in the same year TWA opened direct flights to London Gatwick, Paris, and Frankfurt. Shortly thereafter in 1986, TWA purchased Ozark Airlines, this meant that TWA had a massive hub at Lambert. This brought TWA’s market share in St. Louis from over 50% to over 80% of all of Lambert’s traffic, a virtual monopoly on the airport. This further increased the number of direct destinations in St. Louis.
From 1985 to 1993 TWA had trouble expanding in St. Louis, however, they were still able to always move between 19 million and 20 million people per year during that time period. In 1993 TWA declared bankruptcy, to save and streamline costs they moved their headquarters. After this, the number of passengers that went through Lambert climbed steadily until 2000 when Lambert moved the highest number of passengers to date, around thirty million people.
In the late 1990s, TWA had over 500 daily flights, to over 100 cities out of Lambert. They continued to expand the St. Louis hub and in 1998 they announced a direct to Toyko, however, due to cost cuts and airline troubles, this route never took off.
In the early 2000s, TWA was having financial troubles. The worsening economy seemed to be softening the entire airline industry. The airline’s financial situation became to worsen, and in April of 2001, American Airlines announced it would be acquiring TWA. My dad, who was on a TWA flight when the merger became official, remembers the post-landing announcement, “On behalf of Trans World Airlines, and American Airlines, welcome to St. Louis!” For many St. Louisians this was heartbreaking, the airline that has had a massive hub at Lambert for the past 15 years, was shutting down. American promised that the St. Louis hub would not be going anywhere for the being, many people questioned the need for three massive midwest hubs. At the time St. Louis was the third largest American hub, behind their bases at Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago O’hare, and edging out their hub in Miami.
This buyout kickstarted the massive airline condensation in the United States, TWA and US Airways getting acquired by Amerian, United and Continental merging, Delta buying Northwest and Southwest and AirTran merging.
History | American Airlines
American Airlines had no plan to move many flights out of St. Louis. Their congested O’Hare and Dallas-Fort Worth hubs needed a third midwest hub in order to reduce the heavy stress put on the other airports.
No more than six months after the merger, on September 11th, 2001, four planes singlehandedly brought down two buildings and the entire airline industry with it. American, no longer having the stress they previously had on O’Hare and Dallas because passengers didn’t want to fly, decided to slowly move flights out of St. Louis. In the four months after the attack, 80 daily flights out of St. Louis where routed elsewhere. In December, the direct flights to Europe became seasonal and soon discontinued entirely.
American moved more and more flights from their Mainline to their regional brand, airport traffic in September 2002 was only 4/5ths of what it was before the attacks in 2001. St. Louis was still the third largest hub for American, behind DFW and ORD and just ahead of Miami. In 2003, American announced that half of all of their flights out of St. Louis would be routed through other hubs, from over 400 daily flights to just over 200 daily flights St. Louis’ direct destinations began to drop. 2004 saw nearly seven million fewer passengers than 2003.
In 2008 due to heightened fuel costs and a weak economy, American moved, even more, flights out of its mainline service and into the ‘American Eagle’ brand. In 2009, American announced it would be restructuring the airline to streamline the brand and save costs. As a part of this restructuring process, American wanted to focus more on their main hubs, Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago O’hare, Miami, New York and Los Angeles. This meant the large American hub in St. Louis would be closed. In one year the nearly 200 daily flights out of St. Louis was consolidated to a mere 36 flights to less than ten destinations, these routes would be further cut from most of American’s focus cities, to just their hubs. Most of the aircraft that were previously positioned in St. Louis were repositioned to mainly O’hare to stay competitive with United’s expansion there, other aircraft were positioned in Dallas and some in Miami.
Just after the restructuring, Southwest Airlines announced the addition of more daily flights and more destinations from Lambert. Southwest overtook American for the most daily flights in 2010. This was great for St. Louis because they had a large airline, with a large network, wanting to expand into St. Louis. In 2012 Southwest announced plans to add even more routes out of St. Louis, making it a major focus city, the reason Southwest choose St. Louis as a focus city was because of it’s close proximity to Chicago, Atlanta, and Denver, this allows it to stay competitive with the big three. In the years since Southwest has made St. Louis one of their biggest focus cities, with direct flights to over 30 cities and 90 daily departures.
Lambert is currently the largest American airport without a direct flight to Europe, the airport is trying to get an airline to open up a route. It has spoken with Delta, American, Virgin Atlantic, and Finally, WOW Air is opening up a direct flight to Iceland starting in early 2018, when it launches it will be the longest flight out of St. Louis that is currently flying.
St. Louis | Today
Currently St. Louis has direct flights to the major hubs of American, Delta, and United. Over 40 destinations out of the Southwest focus city here, and a handful of destinations on Frontier. Apple Vacations contracts Xtra Airways to fly to a handful of Mexican and Carribean resort locations, and Cape Air’s small hub in St. Louis flies to a handful of regional destinations.
Currently, there is only one international airline that flies to St. Louis. Air Canada Express flies their CRJ to and from St. Louis serving only Toronto. The airport wants airlines to be attracted to St. Louis and hopes for a European airline to add St. Louis. WOW Air, announced St. Louis would be on their United States route expansion. The first WOW Air A321 is supposed to touch down in May of 2017. This offers a cheap nonstop to Iceland and a cheap one-stop flight to WOW’s European network.
The largest aircraft that regularly serves Lambert is the Airbus A321 or the occasional Boeing 737-900ER. FedEx, DHL, and UPS all have a freight terminal at St. Louis and is commonly served by the Boeing 757 and 767 freighters. The largest aircraft to ever visit St. Louis regularly where the TWA jumbos a long time ago. Air Force One has touched down in St. Louis multiple times before, most recently during the Obama administration to visit the Boeing factory.
When McDonnell-Douglas was bought by Boeing in the 90s, Boeing kept the military division in St. Louis. Boeing took control of the plant in St. Louis, currently the F-15 Eagle, F/A-18 Super Hornet, and the EA-18 Growler, Lambert is also the home for the Boeing Phantom Works, a division that secretively develops military aircraft, and pioneers Boeing’s innovation. The first prototypes for the Boeing TX trainer were built in St. Louis and Boeing have said that if they win the contract, the TX would be built in St. Louis.
Boeing began construction of a composites facility in St. Louis to produce wing and tail parts for the 777X, they will hopefully be airlifted out to Seattle by the Dreamlifter. This shows that even if passenger travel does not come to St. Louis, production and jobs will.
St. Louis | Future [My Thoughts]
If the Boeing 757 replacement aircraft has the range to fly Europe-St. Louis, I could see a low-cost airline like Norwegian opening a route to St. Louis, until an American LCC expands into the overseas market I don’t see that coming.
Because no major US airline has a hub here, an overseas route would only be supported by St. Louis residents and couldn’t meet the demand required for a constant route. I could possibly see Aeromexico expand into St. Louis or a Carribean airline. Unless a major airline creates a hub here, overseas expansion is unlikely.
I think that both Southwest and Frontier will continue to expand their St. Louis footprint by adding more routes and flights over the coming years. The ‘D’ concourse has had some gates clipped off of it to feed the expansion of Southwest in the ‘E’ concourse.
St. Louis isn’t what it used to be, a booming aviation center with direct flights to Europe and most of America. But even if a hub doesn’t show here in the next 10-20 years, it’s aviation legacy continues on.
What do you think about Lambert-St. Louis and its rich history? Do you think it will ever become what it once was? When will Lambert get an overseas destination? Let me know what you think, and lets start a discussion!
Remember, I want to do this with more airports! If you have an idea for an airport that meets the criteria, private message me and I will look into it.
Thanks for reading!