48 years of Paris CDG airport: main air hub in France

Tomorrow will mark the 48th anniversary of the opening of Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG). Named after the former French Prime Minister and President, the airport is the busiest not only in Paris, but also in France as a whole. Let’s take a look at its history and where it is today, amidst the current uncertain market situation.

How the airport was born

Located in the commune of Roissy-en-France, about 23 km (14 miles) northeast of central Paris, the history of Charles de Gaulle Airport began in the decade before it opened. At that time, the French capital was already served commercially by the older facilities of Le Bourget (opened in 1919) and Orly (1932). Nevertheless, in 1966 plans began to be made to establish a third airport in Paris.


At the time planning began, the proposed airport was not named after Charles de Gaulle. Instead, he was simply known as Paris North Airport (“Paris Nord Airport”). This remained the case when it was built, but, by the time it opened on March 8, 1974, it had been renamed in honor of the famous statesman.

The extra capacity offered by CDG airport will have been a welcome relief for the French capital, given that Le Bourget operations had become constrained after the Second World War. This airport was finally closed to international commercial traffic in 1977, with regional flights there suffering the same fate in 1980.

Charles de Gaulle airport

A relatively uneventful story

For an airport so busy and operational for nearly half a century, Paris CDG has remained relatively free of fatal accidents. As for those involving aircraft inside or near the facility, only three have occurred. The most notable of these is the crash of an Air France Concorde in July 2000.

This accident was traced back to 1993 by a crash involving a Lufthansa CityLine Dash 8-300 turboprop. Four passengers aboard this regional plane perished when it crashed short of the runway following a missed approach. Meanwhile, less than a year after the Concorde crash, the pilot of a Short 360 freighter was killed in May 2001 after colliding with a departing Air Liberté McDonnell Douglas MD-83.

Away from flight operations, the airport suffered a structural tragedy in May 2004, when a section of the newly inaugurated Terminal 2E collapsed near gate E50. This unfortunately resulted in the death of four people and three others were injured. This resulted in a total reconstruction of the hall, which reopened in March 2008.

Initially, CDG Terminal 2 was only used by the French national carrier Air France. Photo: Getty Images

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The airport’s busiest routes today

Before the onset of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Paris CDG was one of the busiest airports in the world. Indeed, in 2019, it ranked 8th in terms of passenger traffic, and 11th for freight. Of course, the events of 2020 hit the facility hard, like many other airports around the world, dropping it to 21st place that year. Nevertheless, when it comes to European airports, it ranked 3rd by passengers in 2021.

Full-year data for 2020 showed that Paris CDG’s busiest domestic corridor during that year served Nice Côte d’Azur (NCE), with 374,820 passengers using this route. Internationally, Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) comes first with 242,828 passengers. Regarding long-haul traffic, Dubai International (DXB) was CDG’s top intercontinental destination in 2020, with 208,847 passengers.

What do you think of Paris CDG airport? Have you ever flown from or to the main air hub in France? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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