The third largest airport in Poland is known as Gdansk Lech Walesa Airport, in honor of the former President of Poland, Lech Wałęsa. He gained world recognition in the 1980s as the face of Solidarność (Solidarity), the first nongovernmental trade union in the Soviet bloc. The airport’s logo bears his signature “W” in its design, which hangs directly over the main entrance to the airport terminal.
The movement Solidarność is widely considered to have contributed greatly towards the fall of communism worldwide. The partially open elections in Poland led to the rise of democracy and peacefully supplanted communism in that country, and like a domino effect began the fall across the globe. Soon the long lines to acquire your state ration began to vanish, and stores began carrying a wider variety of products in greater quantities. That seems like a pretty good reason to name the airport after a politician!
The Gdansk Airport began life as a military airfield built in 1910 in the Wrzeszcz District (formerly Langfuhr) of the city. In the 1920s it was transformed into an international airport. It served Warsaw, Szczecin, Elblag, Malbork, Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), Olsztyn and Berlin, as well as Leningrad and Moscow. Between 1929 and 1935 it was handling 1,500 passengers annually.
The airport, however, was getting far too busy to be in downtown Gdansk so they moved the entire operation to Gdansk-Rębiechowo located on the Wysoczyzna Kaszubska upland, 10 kilometres west of Gdansk, where it would have room to grow. It started out on 240 hectares (600 acres) of land in 1974.
They began offering direct flights to Warsaw, Szczecin, Bydgoszcz, Krakow, Wroclaw, Katowice and Rzeszow. Then they slowly introduced international flights to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Berlin, Budapest, Varna and Burgas. As the politics began to change, so did the airport.
By 1993 it had transformed into a for-profit company with an acceptable commercial infrastructure that complied with the rules for dealing with European Union countries. To further comply they built a new passenger terminal in accordance with European standards. It opened in August of 1997 and GDN/EPGD is now recognized officially as a member of the international airport community.
The airport has eight terrific live-streaming cameras with high definition images. They include Arrivals, the Terminal, External Gates, Aprons, an elevated and wider and Apron shot, the Taxiway, Runway Plane-Spotter #1 and #2. Use your Page Refresh to turn the cameras off since they don’t seem to respond to their Pause controls. Running all eight HD camera images might slow down your computer significantly.
You can have a self-conducted virtual tour of the entire airport passenger terminal by clicking on the image at the bottom of the screen and then moving your mouse around to look in all possible directions. What a great way to be sure of where you’re going before you get there.
As always, here is a video, showing you a particularly smooth landing, which is apparently typical for the well-designed airport with good weather and few crosswinds.
The fun part of this video is that the landing direction and the Sun are almost perpendicular, and at precisely the right angle, so that you can see the shadow of the aircraft sliding across the ground to meet precisely with the plane as it touches down.
If you’re a fan of Air Traffic Control you can watch the skies around Gdansk Airport here. Clicking on any plane will identify it for you, and will show you its ideal route to its destination, as well as its actual track so you can see where it deviated. If you don’t understand why the lines are curved rather than straight that subject is too complex to be explained in this space. To find out why the shortest distance between two points isn’t a straight line look here and you’ll have a chance to learn about spherical trigonometry, or what navigators call Great Circle Routes.
You can listen to the live Tower Approach channel too, to get a feel for what is going on. According to international convention ATC is conducted in English. Depending on the time of day and how busy the airport is, it can be a couple of minutes between communications, so don’t give up too early.
There’s been one incident at the airport back in 1981 with an attempted hijacking. It was a single hijacker, the plane was stormed, the hijacker was arrested, and no one was injured.
Three more hijackings were attempted in 1949, 1970, and 1978. There are no crashes or accident records in the ASN (Aviation Safety Network) database, likely due to the excellent weather conditions at the airport.
The airport has all the usual sophisticated amenities that you expect in an International Airport, which includes an Executive Lounge, currency exchange, car rentals, tourist information, as well as travel and tour services. The bus takes 40 minutes to get to downtown Gdansk for a little less than one U.S. dollar. Taxis, on the other hand, should run about $18.00 (but more in the evening and on weekends.
On the whole, this modern and sophisticated airport is very impressive. They handle about five million passengers per year, and about 30 operations per hour, so not overtly busy. You’ll be more than happy to fly in or out of this facility.
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