Rotterdam and ‘airport’ have been tied together for more than a century already. Even before the opening of Rotterdam’s first airport, the Waalhaven flight field, Louis Blérot carried out balloon flights above the centre of the city at the end of the 19th century. In 1920, the Waalhaven flight field was opened, just two months after the opening of Schiphol. In this part of the site, you can read all about the history of Rotterdam The Hague Airport.

Waalhaven Flight Field

Vliegveld Waalhaven

In the 1920s and 1930s, aviation was surrounded by an aura of adventure. It was not without reason that all of the Netherlands closely followed the triumphs and tragedy of the Uiver in 1934. The Waalhaven flight field quickly became a success and the pride of the Rotterdammers. The then still-young KLM conducted many flights to and from Rotterdam and even considered locating their main office in Rotterdam. The city council quickly saw the need for more space for a flight field within the city limits.

Plan for Laag Zestienhoven

Plan laag zestienhoven

The municipalities of Rotterdam and The Hague were tasked by the government to work together on the construction of an airport in the polders to the southeast of Delft. For decades, these locations would prove to be intertwined with the history of Rotterdam aviation: the polders of Laag Zestienhoven and Schieveen. Rotterdam chauvinism and The Hague procrastination hindered a successful collective performance, and in 1938, the municipality of Rotterdam got permission from the government to build a new airport in the Laag Zestienhoven area; in 1939, Waalhaven took on a purely military role and was closed to civil aviation.

War years

Koolhoven vliegtuigen

As history tells us, there was heavy fighting in May 1940 at and around the Waalhaven flight field, and it was finally the Dutch fighting forces who destroyed the flight field and the neighbouring Koolhaven aircraft factory in order to prevent the complex from falling into German hands. After the liberation in 1945, rebuilding of the Waalhaven flight field did not appear to be possible, which is why the 1934 plan for the construction of an airport in the polders to the north of the city were again pulled off the shelf.

Rotterdam Airport

Although The Hague had approved the plan for the new Rotterdam airport before the war, the attitude of the government was very different about it in 1945. A second national airport was the subject of debate, and in 1948, the Cabinet chose the Schieveen polder for the construction of this second national airport. Along the thentwo lane A13, signs rose with the text: ‘Here Rotterdam is building the national Schieveen Airport.’ In 1952, however, Minister Vos reported that this plan would not go forward. This seemed to displease entirely Rotterdam’s business community, which saw a good airport as a necessity for the development of the city and region.

Zestienhoven construction

Partly under pressure from the chairmen of the Rotterdam Chamber of Commerce, Mr K.P. van der Mandele, permission was given in August 1955 for the construction of a Rotterdam airport in the smaller of the two polders: Zestienhoven. Under no conditions would this Rotterdam airport be allowed to become larger than Schiphol.

With the same vigour that characterised the rebuilding of the city and country, the Rotterdam Municipal Airport was constructed in 14 months’ time, consisting of one runway that was 1,300 metres long, a number of wooden buildings and two British regional airline companies as customers for flights to Southend in England, among other places.

On 1 October 1956, the opening was officiated by the Rotterdam mayor, Dr G.E. van Walsum. A Rotterdam civilian airport appeared to be a bull’s-eye, and commerce developed post haste. The success was the trigger for rapid expansion of the technical facilities and an extension of the runway.

Important European companies like Swissair, Lufthansa and Air France very soon included Rotterdam in their route network, and the number of passengers grew to a record of half a million in 1971. The crown on aviation’s success in Rotterdam was the opening of a new terminal in 1970.

Terminal luchthaven Rotterdam

Verkeerstoren luchthaven Rotterdam

New profile

At the end of the 1980s, people realised the economic importance of the airport. Therefore, it was decided, in consultation between the municipality of Rotterdam and Schiphol (current owner of Rotterdam Airport BV), to make agreements about the use of the airport and thus to establish the form and scope of the operations. In the 1990s, this agreement was reached, resulting in a profile for Rotterdam Airport as an airport that specialises in business scheduled traffic to European business centres, whereby there is also space for individual business traffic and holiday flights.

Strong passenger growth


The economic growth of the 1990s and the appearance of security proved an unprecedented stimulus for the activities at the airport. The structural losses that had been suffered since the 1970s were quickly converted into a modest profit through a growing number of flights and passengers. Business travellers, but also holiday makers, discovered with increasing frequency the ease and comfort of Rotterdam Airport, so that the record of 1971 was soon broken. In 2000, the boundary of 750,000 passengers was broken, and in 2001, more than 825,000 travellers made use of the Rotterdam airport.

Even more success


Success was achieved in multiple respects. As a result of a strong environmental policy, the number of complaints decreased drastically. At the end of 2001, the agreements about the form and scope were formalised in a new operational permit for the Rotterdam airport. In addition, the Rotterdam city council decided to confirm the current location of the airport for the coming 100 years. With that, a definitive end has come to the uncertainty that ruled over and influenced the Rotterdam Airport for three decades.

Angela Merkel op Rotterdam The Hague Airport

Government airport

Due to the location nearby the governmental centre of The Hague, Rotterdam The Hague Airport has functioned, since the closure of the Valkenburg Naval Air Base on 1 January 2005, as the government airport. International guests of the Dutch government usually first set foot on Dutch soil at Rotterdam The Hague Airport – for example, for the Afghanistan Conference in 2009 and the Nuclear Safety Summit in 2014, for various State visits, meetings and other conferences in the International city of peace and justice, The Hague.

More destinations

Over the past years, the number of passengers who make use of Rotterdam The Hague Airport has risen sharply. The result: new destinations, more frequent flights and the creation of more capacity on certain routes due to the ever-increasing demand for comfortable air travel via Rotterdam The Hague Airport. In the same period, the number of noise complaints decreased sharply, while there were even more flights, and with larger aircraft. The airport does all it can to prevent ‘noise pollution’, and to encourage the use of the most modern, low-noise and low-emission aircraft – with this remarkable, positive result as a consequence. The European regional airline companies transport more than fifty million passengers per year on more than 750 routes. The average age of the ‘regional’ fleet, which includes several hundred aircraft, is less than ten years old. Therefore, it can be said that the European regional aviation industry has one of the youngest – and therefore most technically advanced and environmentally friendly – fleets in use today.